The Oklahoma Education Association held a news conference Friday morning to talk about education funding measures in the legislature and a proposal they want passed.
Earlier this month, the OEA set a deadline of April 1st for lawmakers to fund education and pay raises. Their proposal includes a $905.7 million plan for teacher raises to avert walkout.
The plan the presented Friday calls for increases in GPT, tobacco and fuel taxes and income tax reform.
“This revenue roadmap to fund the Together We’re Stronger investment plan was built with Oklahomans in mind,” said David Duvall, Executive Director of OEA. “This…presents a real opportunity to reverse course this year and every year hereafter.”
The OEA’s plan includes an increase in the gasoline and tobacco taxes; an alcohol tax; changes in income tax deductions, and an increase in the tax on oil and natural gas production called gross production from two percent to five percent.
The OEA says that would pay for $6,000 raises for teachers this year, plus raises for support staff and state workers.
DuVall said the plan picked from previous proposals, including Step Up, Restore Oklahoma, and Save Our State. He said they’re asking everyone to both play their part and pay their part.
The organization says so far, the legislature hasn't produced a revenue package that would adequately fund an $812 million investment in the first year of the "Together We’re Stronger" plan presented by OEA.
Several people spoke in favor of the plan Friday, including Hope Davis, a student at Moore High School who is classified as special needs because of her being deaf.
“I need this pay raise because my teachers don’t know how to help me,” Davis said.
She said the pay raise would help give teachers funding for more understanding and better collaboration with special needs students.
“No student should ever have their education at stake because a school can’t hire enough teachers. My learning makes it nearly impossible to learn from subs who are there one day and gone the next,” Davis said.
Those that spoke said they are tired of the “blame game” from legislators and want something to be done.
DuVall said it’s time for members of both parties and chambers to do something. He said OEA has presented a plan that moves the state forward and gets Oklahoma out of the revenue crisis.
“We’re willing to work with anyone in the legislature to pass revenue-raising measures that meet our funding needs,” he said. “This is a roadmap, and you can pick at individual pieces of it, but my suggestion to lawmakers is ‘just quit it.’ Get together and figure out how to raise revenue to meet Oklahoma funding needs.”
Senate leadership released a vague statement that says:
“Senate Republicans agree that teachers deserve a significant pay raise, which is why 85 percent of Senate Republicans voted last week in favor of a 12.7 percent teacher pay raise. A 12.7 percent raise is two-and-a-half times more than what West Virginia teachers received, and would rank Oklahoma No. 2 in the region for average teacher pay. Many of the revenue ideas Senate Republicans support are within the OEA revenue plan announced today. Senate Republicans have worked for the past year and a half on a teacher pay raise plan and will continue working to fund a significant raise.” - Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus
But there weren’t enough Republicans to pass the Senate plan, and Democrats in the House of Representatives say it would have failed there too.
House leaders are not answering questions about the OEA plan, but Trent England of the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs has plenty to say about it.
“They put together a bunch of plans that haven’t worked and made it even more expensive. I mean that is just not a path to compromise.”
Next week lawmakers are expected to work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but they’ll take Thursday and Friday off. They’ll come back April 2, the same day teachers are scheduled to walk out.
Alicia Priest, president of OEA, said if nothing is done and educators walkout on April 2nd, it will last until legislators “choose to put children first, the education and the future or our state first.”
You can watch the full news conference below: