Historic Tax Bill 'Took A Lot Of Courage' To Pass, OK Governor Says
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma - Monday, hundreds of school districts across Oklahoma shut down as thousands of educators and education supporters protested at the state capitol for an increase in education funding.
The Oklahoma Education Association said the school shutdown will continue until lawmakers "commit to funding our children's future."
Last week, lawmakers passed bills giving Oklahoma teachers a raise and provided more funding for education, but it still missed the mark set by teachers.
State leaders, however, want credit for what they did pass. They emphasize that it’s a big step and a change from the cuts of the past.
“It took a lot of courage on the legislators’ part. It wasn't easy,” Governor Mary Fallin said.
The Legislature approved a teacher pay raise averaging $6,100 a year.
“When you think about bringing us up to second in the region with the highest teacher pay, and to come from seventh to second in this short of period of time is quite remarkable. We've also had a 19 percent increase in funding for education," Fallin said.
But school districts across the state said teacher pay is just one part of the puzzle. They said they desperately need more funding for students as well.
But lawmakers said the pie to take money from is only so big.
"We’re trying to also balance the needs of every other agency and trying to make sure that we shore up any inefficiencies,” Representative Todd Thompson said.
Legislators can still tap into money from capital gains and wind taxes. They can also allow school districts to use property taxes for teacher pay and supplies.
Senator Greg Treat said, “This would not be an increase in property tax. It would just be a more flexible use of that already existing base of property tax."
But few lawmakers expect another major infusion of cash for education on top of the $400 million approved last week.
"I think this year it’s going to be difficult, just in the sense that we passed an historic amount of money for education. The biggest teacher raise in the history of Oklahoma,” said Representative Harold Wright.
Fallin said, “I understand there is more that people would have liked to have done, hopefully, we can keep talking about that, keep advocating and keep encouraging people to understand that education is critical.”
The Legislature is still in the special session, so, as they did last week, they can still create and quickly pass legislation to satisfy the teachers' demands.