Oklahoma teachers head into 5th day of walkout as lawmakers consider key measures

For the fifth consecutive day, Oklahoma teachers will pack the state Capitol as lawmakers discuss three measures that affect education funding on Friday.

Schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa will be closed Friday because of the walkout.

The three measures at stake

Teachers will be back in the Capitol’s rotunda and the grounds outside, to pressure lawmakers on three bills.

1. A bill amendment would require sales from third-party retailers selling though internet outlets such as Amazon to be subject to sales tax. The Senate could vote on the Amazon sales tax bill that was passed in the House earlier in the week, which could bring in about $20 million annually in education funding.
2. The “ball and dice” tax for gambling would also bring in about $20 million.
3. Also at play is the hotel and motel tax that was repealed by the House after it had passed as part of Bill 1010XX last week. The state Senate will consider whether to remove the fee.

The Oklahoma Education Association says the motel tax, which it says would be paid by mostly non-Oklahomans, would add $42 million in revenue and opposes its repeal.

“We strongly disagree with this repeal and are asking senators to vote no on the repeal of the hotel/motel tax,” said Katherine Bishop, vice president of the OEA in a Facebook message Thursday. “This is a valuable revenue source that could provide much needed additional funding for our kids and is widely supported by the public.”

The OEA wants the Senate to approve the first two measures — the Amazon tax and the “ball and dice” tax.

If those two pass, “this would make a major victory for our students that would not have happened without the thousands of people who have come to the Capitol to make their voices heard,” Bishop said. “To be clear, this is why we are here, because we all want to do more for our students.”

Walkout to continue into fifth day

Teachers in Oklahoma say more spending on education is needed, asserting that things such as facilities, equipment and textbooks are run down, outdated or in short supply.

They and the state government are at odds over salaries and funding. Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed a bill that raises the average teacher salary by $6,100, but the teachers’ union wanted that figure to be $10,000.

The state ranks 49th in the nation in teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association, in a list that includes Washington, DC. Two states, Mississippi and South Dakota rank lower than Oklahoma.

Fallin also signed a bill that raises education funding by $50 million; the teachers’ union wanted that number to be higher.

Since Monday, teachers have swarmed the Capitol with signs and slogans.

“I think they thought we were not going to come out in the forces that we did especially throughout the week… but we’re holding strong and you don’t mess with teachers when we’re trying to fight for our kids,” Amanda Girdler, a fourth grade teacher told CNN.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky…

In Kentucky, teachers also protested in its state Capitol earlier in the week.

They are upset over a controversial pension bill that state lawmakers passed last week.

The bill would affect new teachers and move them to a hybrid cash-balance plan, rather than traditional pensions, and would limit new sick days teachers can put into their retirement. Senate Bill 151 is now at Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk. Supporters of the bill say the changes are necessary to save the state’s pension.

CNNMoney: How states are changing teacher pension plans

At the time when teachers came to Frankfort Monday to protest pension reform, state legislature passed changes to its tax system, called House Bill 366.

An analysis of that bill by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found that the measure would bring a huge tax cut for the richest 1% of residents, while the biggest tax increase would affect those making less than $21,000 a year. A fellow with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy described it as “a tax cut for Kentucky’s richest people paired with a tax increase for the middle class and the poor.”

It’s unclear whether Bevin will sign that bill.