On day five of the statewide teacher walkout, the Oklahoma state senate passed two bills that would generate a combined $40.5 million for education.
But it’s not enough to send teachers back to the classroom. The walkout will continue on Monday.
The first bill to place a sales tax on Amazon vendors would raise about $20.5 million for education funding. The second bill would allow casinos to have ball and dice table games, and that’s projected to raise up to $20 million for education. Both bills are now headed to the governor’s desk.
The bills’ passage fulfills two of the Oklahoma Education Association’s three legislative demands. The other one was for the state Senate to reject the House’s repeal of a tax on hotel and motel stays. That tax would have given $42 million to public schools. Instead, on Friday, the Senate voted to repeal the tax.
“This revenue source would provide much needed additional funding for students, is widely supported by the public, and would be paid for by non-Oklahomans,” said Alicia Priest, the OEA president, in a statement. “We call on Governor [Mary] Fallin to immediately veto [the tax repeal] because it steals $42 million in funding away from Oklahoma’s students.”
Priest urged state legislators to consider a bill that would reinstate the capital gains tax—currently, taxpayers can exempt from their taxable income any gains from the sale of Oklahoma property or stocks. That deduction mostly benefits the wealthy, according to a local think tank.
Passing a bill that would reinstate the capital gains tax—which would provide more funding for schools—would end the walkout, Priest said.
So far, Oklahoma lawmakers have declined to hear that bill, according to local news reports.
Several school districts, including the Tulsa and Oklahoma City districts, have announced they would be closed on Monday. For the Oklahoma City district at least, this will add two additional days to the school year. (It’s worth noting that not every district in the state is participating in the walkout: Many teachers in rural areas are already back at work.)
The teachers’ union had originally demanded a $10,000 pay raise over three years and a $200 million boost to education funding, along with raises for support staff and other measures. Instead, the legislature passed a $6,100 pay raise for teachers and $50 million for public schools.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat told reporters that he didn’t anticipate any modifications to the education budget, according to the Oklahoman newspaper. Fallin has already called on teachers to return to the classroom.
In a statement, Shawn Hime, the executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said teachers’ advocacy has put schools in “their strongest financial position in more than a decade.”
“My hope now is local communities will begin a serious conversation about the need for children to return to class so they can finish the school year strong and ensure all of the dedicated employees in our schools can continue to be paid,” Hime said.
But it seems like teachers are still maintaining large community support. In an Oklahoman online poll with more than 29,000 votes, over 86 percent of respondents say they support the walkout.
Image: Six-year-old Coe Amos, a student in the Deer Creek school district of Edmond, Okla., stands in line to enter the state Capitol on the fifth day of protests over school funding, in Oklahoma City, April 6. —Sue Ogrocki/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.