Teachers in Oklahoma are still planning to leave the job next week after state legislators passed a bill on education funding that breaks up within hours.
At first, the legislation signed Thursday by Governor Mary Fallin (R) seemed to be suppressing the nationwide strike that teachers had scheduled for April 2 to demand more money for schools. But not even a day after the State Senate approved the first tax hike package in years, State House MPs voted to lift one of its key provisions, a hotel and motel tax.
After applauding lawmakers for funding approval Bill, the state's leading teachers' union, the Oklahoma Education Association, renewed on Thursday the call for teachers from across the state to leave school and head to the Capitol on Monday in Oklahoma City go.
"Yesterday, the Legislature passed a historic law to increase education funding," the union said Thursday in a Facebook post. "Today they started dismantling it by cutting millions out of the plan and now they're off for the weekend Oklahoma: See you at the Capitol at 9am on April 2nd."
Oklahoma is one of them Wave of red states facing a teacher revolt after years of anemic education funding.
Over the past ten years, Oklahoma has introduced a series of tax cuts that, coupled with falling energy prices, have left the oil and gas-rich state with little money for teachers or textbooks. It's more or less the same story that happened in West Virginia, where tax cuts forced educators to forego increases while their health costs rose. Teachers left the job for nine days in February and March, which led the legislature to finance pay increases for public sector employees.
The historic and successful strike in West Virginia has sparked a nascent uprising among thrifty teachers across the country. In addition to Oklahoma, Arizona may soon face a strike by teachers demanding that the state raise wages by 20 percent and regain educational funding before the recession. (In the meantime, teachers in Kentucky have closed public schools in 25 districts on Friday to protest against planned cuts in the state pension plan.)
Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona are among the country's lowest paid schools growing teacher shortage. In all three states, Republicans control the House of Representatives and the governorship office.
"After ten long years in many of these conservative states, the chicken is finally coming home," said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the 3 million member union affiliated to the Oklahoma Education Association. "They granted large corporations tax breaks, defused public schools and said: 'What could go wrong?'
After Oklahoma's legislators passed the tax hike, it appeared that the strike could become a one-day rally Monday. Now nobody knows exactly what will bring next week. The mixed actions of Oklahoma's legislators could cause some school districts to close only for Monday or not at all while others work for days. Many Oklahoma teachers on Facebook have demanded that the schools remain closed until all their demands are met.
We have buildings that fall apart and textbooks that need to be put together.
Beth Wallis, assistant director
To a certain extent, their departure requires the collaboration of their largely sympathetic superintendents, who decide whether the schools are formally open or closed. If schools are open and teachers refuse to return to work, the state could consider this an illegal strike. Several districts announced Friday that their schools would not be open on Monday.
Beth Wallis, a deputy band director who teaches in suburban Tulsa, said teachers in her district voted unanimously to let the job go beyond Monday. Although the laws passed this week include average wage increases of $ 6,1
"School funding in the bill is ridiculously small," said Wallis. "It's not enough to buy every child in my district a single textbook, we have buildings that fall apart and textbooks that need to be put together."
Like most states, Oklahoma cut school funding in the wake of the Great Recession. But also tax cuts during the subsequent recovery of the economy, the reduction of income taxes and the reduction of gross production tax for oil and gas companies. With little money for schools, Oklahoma has led the nation over the past decade in cuts to its education formula funding which is the single most important source of state money for individual districts. "They've maximized the damage the recession has done to their schools and other public services, and as the economy improved, they continued to lower taxes," Michael Leachman, an analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy, recently said HuffPost. "They dig their hole even deeper."
With fewer funds, many poorly-paid schools went four-day weeks while appraising a growing number of emergency teachers for vacancies. Such teachers do not meet the normal minimum state requirements to teach in public schools. The union says the state needs to significantly increase salaries and school funding if it wants to stop losing teachers to Arkansas and other nearby states that pay better.
The change of course will not be easy. Approving tax increases in Oklahoma is extremely difficult and requires a three-quarters majority in both chambers. Legislators were barely able to approve the already failed tax package. Lawmakers only had hours to process this bill before it was passed, and many obviously had no time to read it. A state representative argued that the bill had a hole of $ 75 million before the cancellation of the hotel and motel tax was considered.
"The more the bill sits," Wallis said, "the more people have read it and are having problems with it."