The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – As more districts endorse the Oklahoma Education Association’s walkout plan and teachers continue organizing on social media, the push seems to be gaining a foothold in the Legislature.
In a special meeting on Monday, Edmond Public Schools passed a resolution announcing it would help teachers with a walkout. Edmond is the state’s third-largest district, encompassing nearly 25,000 students. The two largest districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools, have already made similar declarations, as have more than a dozen smaller districts. Teachers across the state have continued their online push to bring their friends on board. Educators in districts such as Jenks and Tahlequah have been posting to Facebook, explaining why they and hundreds of their counterparts plan to participate in the April 2 event.
Support wasn’t easy to find at the state Capitol immediately after the announcement last week. Top lawmakers called the organization’s ask – more than $800 million in tax increases to pay for, among other things, a $10,000-per-year teacher pay raise – unrealistic.
On Monday, lawmakers signaled more support than they have in the past. However, they remained cautious and much of the focus remained on partisan politics.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat was designated the Senate president pro tempore for the upcoming legislative session on Monday. Unlike the lawmaker currently holding the position, Treat said on Monday that the OEA request is attainable. He said onlookers are talking about the push for teacher pay ramping up.
“To be frank, it’s been ramped up for over a year now,” he said.
He said there is no way the Legislature will implement pay increases without finding funding for them, noting that the Senate has already passed several bipartisan measures and resolutions that would pay for teacher and public employee salary increases.
“It’s just a matter of how much can pass out of the House,” he said.
The higher chamber has put partisanship to the side, he said, but the other chamber hasn’t. He pointed to House Democrats’ vote on the Step Up Oklahoma plan, which failed by about a dozen votes. Only half of the House Democrats voted for it, he said. With their support, measures could easily come out of the lower chamber.
House Minority Leader Steve Kouplen said that as always, his caucus remains open to negotiations. He joked that he appreciated the senator for giving his caucus so much credit. Like Treat, he said the OEA request is possible to fulfill.
“They are going to be a pretty good lift,” he said. “There is no doubt about that.”
He said the momentum behind the teacher walkout is also putting pressure on those who oppose raising the gross production tax on oil and gas and that it is amplifying those who support nixing the incentive period, restoring the beginning rate to 7 percent. He said that if the Republicans were to sign off on that proposal, the Democrats would be more amenable to the measures they have felled so far.