Oklahoma GOP leaders scramble to end teacher strike

Oklahoma GOP leaders scramble to end teacher strike
The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thousands of Oklahoma teachers, students and their supporters staged massive demonstrations at the state Capitol for the fourth straight day Thursday as Republican lawmakers struggled to find a way to placate the chanting masses and bring an end to school closures in some of the state’s largest districts.

State House and Senate leaders announced they would take up money-raising bills Friday — a rarity for Oklahoma lawmakers who typically don’t go to the Capitol on the final day of the workweek.

“Friday will be an important day,” Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat said. “There will be substantive legislation.”

GOP Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation in late March granting teachers pay raises of about $6,100, or 15 to 18 percent. But many educators said classrooms also need more money, joining a movement of teachers that has ignited protests in other Republican-led states including West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona.

Teachers now are pushing lawmakers to pass several more revenue-raising measures, including one that eliminates the income tax deduction for capital gains that would generate about $120 million annually. Another to expand tribal gambling would bring in about $20 million, but both of those measures face broad GOP opposition.

It’s unclear whether these bills, or another to require certain online vendors to pay sales tax, will be enough to stop the strike.

Fallin on Wednesday called on teachers to return to classrooms, but in one interview Tuesday, she likened striking teachers to “a teenage kid that wants a better car.”

“That was kind of a slap in the face,” said Donita Goforth, an elementary art teacher from Grove, Oklahoma, who drove three-and-a-half hours to rally at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Many teachers already are back at work, especially in rural communities where local boards didn’t vote to shut down. Still, schools in the state’s largest districts remain shuttered, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa and many suburban communities.

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