With the teachers' strike entering the eighth day, the Republican governor and state legislature in Oklahoma have announced that they will not give in to the teachers' demands.
Teachers are demanding a US$10,000 over the course of next three years. US$6,000 in the first year, US$2,000 the second and third years, along with raises for school support staff and all state employees, an increased funding for their schools, their pensions, and their health care.
Earlier this month, Governor Mary Fallin signed a measure to grant the teachers a US$6,100 pay raise but then compared their demand for more education funding to "a teenage kid that wants a better car."
Fallin signed HB 1010, which has raised the teachers' pay by anywhere between 15 percent to 18 percent, with an average of US$6,100. The pay hike was possible because of the rise in state taxes of US$447 million on cigarettes, fuel and oil, and gas production.
But after announcing measures to reel in nearly US$450 million through new taxes and other revenues, Oklahoma announced it couldn't help the teachers any further.
On Tuesday, Fallin signed three house bills which will impact the education sector, bills 1012XX, 3375 and 1019XX. HB 1012XX repeals the US$5 hotel/motel tax, HB 3375 allows tribal casinos to use traditional roulette and dice games and HB 1019XX will require third-party online retail to collect and remit sales tax back to state coffers, officials said.
The deeper issue in Oklahoma state's education sector stems from the tax cuts to the rich, a chunk of which was first passed in 2004, ultimately causing Oklahoma to lose about US$1,022 billion in annual revenue (in 2016 dollars), Vox News reported.
The Republican-controlled state legislature had defended these tax cuts, saying it would help create growth. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, CBPP, the tax cuts were not a good model to follow as they only benefitted the wealthy.
"This approach is not supported by the preponderance of the relevant academic research and has not worked particularly well in the past. The states that tried deep income tax cuts over the last three decades have not seen their economies surge as a result," CBPP said.
According to the left-leaning CBPP, adjustments to inflation in the state also led to spending per student at nearly 30 percent over the course of the past decade.
According to David Blatt, who runs the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank "That was a time when the economy was booming and oil prices were high, and for a time it looked like you could have it all."
On April 2, over 40,000 educators in Oklahoma began their march, effectively shuttering schools in nearly 27 districts in Oklahoma including three in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Edmond, and 500,000 of the state’s 700,000 public school students saw their classes canceled the previous day of when the strike began.
"No funding, no future!" Katrina Ruff, a local teacher, carried a sign that read, “Thanks to West Virginia. They gave us the guts to stand up for ourselves," she said, according to the New York Times.
"Momentum is on our side," said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s biggest teachers union, according to Reuters.