OKLAHOMA CITY — The head of the state’s largest education union said Wednesday that her group hasn’t ruled out another walkout during session if legislators don’t adequately increase teacher pay and classroom funding.
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said members are demanding lawmakers increase public school funding by another $400 million by April 1. That includes a $3,000 raise for classroom teachers, a $2,500 raise for support personnel and another $150 million to help bolster classroom spending.
If lawmakers don’t deliver, every option — including another walkout — is on the table, Priest said.
A walkout, though, would not be the optimal outcome, she said.
“Our goal isn’t a walkout,” she said. “It’s to work with our legislators.”
Despite receiving a permanent average $6,100 raise last year, educators shut down schools statewide for nine days in 2018 as tens of thousands of them converged on the Capitol to press for increased education spending. More than 500,000 students were affected by the closures.
Even before districts closed, lawmakers raised more than $447 million in new taxes in order to fund the permanent salary increase. They also increased pay for support staff and public employees and agreed to increase classroom spending by about $50 million.
In response to the latest threat, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday his administration plans to increase education funding.
No funding specifics were available because his administration is still finalizing his proposed budget ahead of his State-of-the-State address Monday, a spokeswoman said.
Education is really important to the state, he said.
“But we can’t, you know, threaten walkouts and that kind of stuff,” he said. “That’s not smart. That’s not good.”
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said teacher pay is an important issue to his Republican caucus members, who believe pay should be No. 1 in the region.
Public school funding also is a priority, but leaders won’t know how much excess revenue will be available until February, he said.
However, McCall said there’s also a diminished appetite for new revenue-raising measures, and doesn’t expect any this session. He said his members want to pay for a teacher raise using surplus revenue.
Legislative leaders also noted there are other areas of government that need increased funding.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said his caucus has pledged to honor and protect the existing $2.9 billion investment in students and teachers and is focused on eliminating four-day school weeks.
Treat said he’s absolutely committed to funding education at an even higher rate, but it’s premature to talk about a walkout without knowing the real budget picture.
“The OEA,” he said. “We’ll see how many teachers follow their lead anymore.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.