As the statewide teacher walkout begins, we’d like to pass along the details of the recent legislative action and relay what we are hearing about the ongoing situation.
What has happened: Late last week, lawmakers passed and Gov. Fallin signed into law raises for teachers and additional funding for education operations. The raise is 15 to 18 percent (on average $6,100/year), depending on years of service. To fund this, the package raised $474 million in new revenue from the first tax increase passed in Oklahoma since State Question 640 restricted the Legislature’s ability to raise revenue in the early 1990s:
• Raising the gross production tax on oil wells from 2% to 5% for the first three years, with the rate rising to 7% after that.
• Raising the motor fuel tax by 3 cents a gallon on gasoline and 6 cents a gallon on diesel.
• Adding a $1 per pack tax on cigarettes.
• Taxing little cigars the same as cigarettes.
• Adding a $5 room tax on hotel and motel stays. However, legislators are repealing this portion of the package and are working on replacing the revenue it would have generated. The most likely method would be increased enforcement on online sales tax collections by targeting the third-party sellers on Amazon who do not have to remit taxes to Oklahoma. This does not impact the raises, which are set in law and must occur. However, failing to make up the revenue could result in cuts elsewhere in state government.
What this means: This pay raise will propel Oklahoma’s teachers from the lowest-paid in the region to the second-highest paid in the region, just behind Texas. In addition, more than $422 million will go into the state funding formula, including $33 million for textbooks that had been lost in recent funding cuts. An estimated $18 million for general school operations was also raised.
Watch out for myths: There are several misconceptions about this package, including that the raises are for only one year and that the hotel tax repeal means the raises will not happen in full. Please see this myth-busting document created by the State Department of Education, and feel free to share with any teachers or supporters in your circles.
What’s happening today? Because the package did not meet the full demands of the Oklahoma Education Association teacher union (see here for that list), the union called for teachers to begin striking today as previously planned and to continue striking until the demands are met. Teachers began arriving in buses at the Capitol about 8 a.m. this morning. The OEA estimates that about 200 schools statewide are closed, and says up to 30,000 teachers and supporters are expected at the Capitol building today.
What’s next for the strike? Because the OEA cannot legally compel teachers to strike under state law, the decision to return to work could ultimately fall to individual teachers and school boards. Most schools in the state still have several built-in snow days that can be burned without the loss of instruction time, and some Tulsa-area districts have already decided to be closed at least one week. Tulsa Public Schools has announced it will be closed tomorrow. At this time, there does not appear to be movement in the Legislature to raise additional funds to reach the OEA demands fully.
Resources for impacted parents: The Tulsa Area United Way has compiled a list of organizations providing support during the walkout — click here for more.