Oklahoma teachers say new bill isn't good enough to stop walkout

A flurry of last-minute lobbying convinced legislators to amend the bill today.
March 29, 2018, 2:54am

Late Wednesday night, the Oklahoma state Senate passed a series of tax increases that would fund raises for teachers, taking the legislation one step closer to passing before they stage an April 2 walkout. But it might be too little too late: the Oklahoma Education Association teachers’ union said the bill, as it is now, isn’t enough to stop their plans.

“Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Oklahoma students,” Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said in a press release. “There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms. That work will continue Monday when educators descend on the Capitol.”

The Senate voted 36-10 in favor of passing the a series of tax increases that would increase salaries for teachers by around $6,000, which Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement she “absolutely” plans to sign.

But thanks to a reported flurry of last-minute lobbying, the House and the Senate have now agreed to amend the bill to spare the hotel and motel industry a $5 tax that would have netted an estimated annual revenue of $50.4 million.

The legislation raises taxes in the state for the first time since 1990 by $447 million, increasing the regular gas tax by 3 cents, the diesel gas tax to 6 cents, and the cigarette tax by $1. But the version of the bill initially passed by the House on March 26 also contained a $5-per-night tax for hotel and motel guests. After two days of lobbying by Chambers of Commerce and special interest groups tied to the hospitality industry, legislators agreed to repeal those sections, prompting the Oklahoma Education Association’s declaration of continued intent to walk out. A bill that “tightens up online sales tax collections” may take that tax’s place, Tulsa World reports.

Read more: Oklahoma House passes first tax increase in 28 years to fund teacher raises

"I appreciate the House members choosing to put people over politics by approving this package of revenue measures to fund teacher pay raises, as well as provide additional money for the classroom,” Republican Governor Mary Fallin said Tuesday after the House versions of the bills passed.

The bills, if signed into law, would give teachers in Oklahoma their first raise in 10 years.

Cover image: Bartlesville teachers walk to the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City to lobby the legislature for education funding increases.