Oklahoma Senate approves $40M for schools as strike goes on

Dustie Swaim
The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Senate approved two bills Friday designed to generate about $40 million more for public schools, but it was unclear whether that would be enough to placate thousands of teachers on a five-day strike seeking more money for education.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin next will decide whether to sign the revenue-raising plans into law.

Some of Oklahoma’s largest school districts have already canceled classes on Monday. Oklahoma Education Association Executive Director David Duvall says he doesn’t think the legislation does enough to keep teachers from walking out again next week.

“Our members know their needs, and they’re going to tell us when it’s enough,” Duvall said. “I anticipate that we’ll be back up here on Monday.”

Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat, a key negotiator on the budget, said he had not met with education union leaders and didn’t know what it would take to resolve the situation.

“I’m not the one who started the walkout, so I’m not the person to ask,” said Treat, a Republican from Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma is the second state where teachers have gone on strike this year. West Virginia teachers won a 5 percent pay increase after striking for nine days. That ignited protests in other Republican-led states, including Kentucky and Arizona.

Fallin has faced the brunt of criticism from teachers, many of whom blame the term-limited governor for supporting tax cuts and generous state subsidies for businesses that have led to declines in state funding for schools and other state services. The governor further raised the ire of teachers after an interview this week in which she likened striking teachers to a “teenage kid that wants a better car.”

Dozens of protesters inside the packed Capitol responded Wednesday by jangling their keys in the Capitol rotunda and chanting “Where’s our car?”

Fallin, a lame-duck governor in her final year, has had scant success in recent years pushing her agenda, despite overwhelming GOP majorities in both chambers. Her proposal last year to generate revenue for teacher raises by broadening the sales tax fell flat in the Legislature. She focused her final State of the State address this year on endorsing a tax-hike package dubbed “Step Up” that was supported by civic and industry leaders, but the measure never made it out of the House.

Ultimately, the governor signed legislation last week granting teachers pay raises of about $6,100, or 15 to 18 percent, as well as tens of millions of new dollars for public schools.

Bills the Senate approved Friday would tax certain internet sales and expand tribal gambling to include games with a ball or dice, such as craps and roulette.

Many teachers already are back at work, especially in rural communities where local boards didn’t vote to shut down. But the state’s two largest school districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, announced plans to close for a sixth day on Monday.

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