An Oklahoma teachers strike that first began on Monday may continue into next week, local media outlets have reported.
Friday was the fifth day of teacher walkouts, but multiple school districts have already announced school closures for the upcoming week, according to KFOR. Teachers say they’re waiting to see whether measures that would increase state revenue will pass the state senate on Friday afternoon.
Oklahoma teachers have pushed for a $10,000 raise for teachers and $5,000 raise for education support professionals over three years. They also want $200 million over three years to restore education funding, new revenue for health care, mental health, and public safety, and a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees.
The Oklahoma House on Thursday passed a measure requiring third-party online retailers to collect sales tax, which would bring in $20 million a year for education funding, but teachers say it is not enough to end the walkouts. On Friday, those educators gathered at the capitol building to pressure state senators to consider measures that would bring in more revenue.
Oklahoma Education Association President (OEA) Alicia Priest has pushed lawmakers to consider a bill that taxes state casinos for ball and dice table games, which would also bring in another $20 million, according to KFOR. A hotel and motel tax was repealed last week and the Senate is considering if it should get rid of the fee. OEA opposes a repeal of the tax, which it says would bring in $42 million. The ball and dice measure passed on Friday afternoon.
A music band playing ON FALLIN’S PARKING SPOT and making our wait to the Capitol more pleasant! 🎼🥁 Thanks, guys! 👏🏼 Almost there! 💪🏼#OkLeg #OklaEd #OKWalk4Kids #OklaEdWalkout #OkTeacherWalkout #OklahomaTeacherWalkout pic.twitter.com/y47sqpXo5b
— Luis Gil (@idiomasTIC) April 6, 2018
It’s unclear whether the teachers union would encourage teachers to end their strike if the first two measures pass, but some teachers have already argued against such a move.
Oklahoma teacher Alberto Morejon, who started a Facebook page to organize the walkouts and provide a forum for discussion, said in a post yesterday that the two bills are not enough. Combining the $42 million and $50 million from a bill signed by Gov. Mary Fallin that provides more funding to schools and higher teacher salaries, Morejon wrote, would only bring the total funding to $92 million and “would still be short changing our kids!!”
“Does OEA want us to give up so they can say… ‘Well we at OEA tried’?” Morejon wrote. “Are the Legislators waiting us out, or is OEA waiting us out? When is the last time OEA clearly announced what would end this walkout without being extremely vague?”
— Emory Bryan (@emorybryan) April 6, 2018
OEA Vice President Katherine Bishop attempted to find a middle ground in a Facebook video on Thursday.
“By passing the Amazon bill and the ball and dice, lawmakers could nearly double the increase in new revenue for our students. This would add $42 million in new revenue … That funding didn’t exist last week,” Bishop said. “If it passes, this would make a major victory for our students … I know emotions are high and miscommunication and disagreements happen but I want to say that the OEA supports everyone that is a part of this this walkout and we greatly appreciate everyone’s efforts. We are all on the same team.”
OEA has a permit to push the work stoppage into next week and is currently planning logistics, according to The Oklahoman’s Ben Felder.
Parents and administrators also showed up at the state capitol building in support of teachers on Friday. Alleen Jones, a parent who supports the walkouts, told Felder, “We have kids at home who are begging to go back to school, begging to be back with their teachers, but the point is that we’re doing this so my kid is not sitting in a classroom with 35 other kids.”
Kids cheering on teachers as they march from Tulsa to the state Capitol.
— Red T Raccoon (@RedTRaccoon) April 6, 2018
This week, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) drew heavy criticism after comparing teachers to “a teenage kid who wants a better car.” Fallin characterized teachers as misinformed in an interview with NewsOK and said she hopes “reasonable people come together.”
“There were some teachers that didn’t even know the pay raise had been signed. The discord between all the different bodies involved in the process has been disheartening from a standpoint,” she told the outlet.
— Ben Felder (@benfelder_okc) April 6, 2018
Oklahoma lawmaker, Rep. John Enns (R) also found himself at the center of controversy this week after he claimed, without proof, that 25 percent of about 5,000 state capitol protestors were “paid actors” from Chicago. When Enns was asked to explain his comments, he initially denied making such claims, before admitting to News9, “I was told that there were paid protesters down here…. I’ve just got bad feeling up here … This thing could go bad.”
This week, Rep. Kevin McDugle (R) admonished teachers in a Facebook video, saying that he wouldn’t vote another measure “when (teachers) are acting the way they are acting.” The video has since been deleted.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said it is investigating potential threats of dangerous protesters after lawmakers contacted the agency. According to KFOR, there are a number of “unsubstantiated rumors” about such threats “floating around the capitol,” but when reporters asked the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which is in charge of capitol security, about those rumors, Capt. Paul Timmons said, “No. There has not. And want to make sure everyone knows that there has not been anything that has occurred to this point and we don’t expect any problems.”
Update, 4:15 PM: The Oklahoma Senate overwhelmingly passed a repeal of the state’s hotel and motel tax, following the lead of the state House of Representatives last week. The Oklahoma Education Association had pushed senators to oppose the repeal.
OEA President Alicia Priest told reporters on Friday that the strikes will indeed continue into a second week.
Oklahoma @okea president speaking now says walkout will continue until capital gains tax back or equivalent of those funds is passed by lawmakers. #oklahoma #oklaed #Oklahomateacherswalkout pic.twitter.com/q8OyCIEu3k
— Tiffany Alaniz (@TiffanyAlaniz) April 6, 2018
Following the final vote on the hospitality tax repeal, the state senate declared a recess until Monday afternoon.