OKLAHOMA CITY — Leaders of the Oklahoma Education Association on Thursday unveiled the specifics of their demand for $10,000 teacher pay raises and said new legislative talk of $2,000 raises would not stop public school teachers from walking out en masse on April 2.
The state’s teachers union proposal calls for a $6,000 teacher raise in year 1 and $2,000 each in years 2 and 3, for a total, three-year cost of $1.46 billion.
They also want a raise for school support workers that would cost $292.5 million by the end of those same three fiscal years.
“We cannot — no, we will not allow our students to go without any longer,” OEA President Alicia Priest said. “If the Legislature doesn’t pass $6,000 teacher pay raises and necessary revenue to pay for them, … OEA is calling on every Oklahoma teacher to leave their classroom and come to the Capitol.”
Local school boards and district administrators will ultimately determine whether to allow their teachers to participate.
Blowback from state lawmakers began as the OEA news conference was ending about 2 p.m., with the leader of the state Senate saying $10,000 raises at this time are “very unrealistic.”
Lawmakers are looking at legislation that would raise revenue for education and achieve a lesser raise for teachers by capping itemized tax deductions.
Priest said state lawmakers must fund the raises by April 1, which is the state’s perennially missed deadline for funding education for the fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Earlier this week, OEA announced April 23 as the statewide teacher walkout date, but moved it up to April 2 just one day later in response to pushback within its own membership and nonmember teachers.
OEA leaders and other speakers at Thursday afternoon’s news conference said they remain hopeful that the Legislature can pass teacher raises and devise a revenue strategy to pay for them in the next three weeks.
“Our goal is to fund education. Our goal is not to shut down schools,” Priest said. Still, if the teachers ultimately walk out, Priest said, “schools will stay closed until we get what we are asking for.”
OEA had originally planned to unveil its own ideas for how to pay for the raises but decided to defer to the Legislature to find a solution, said David DuVall, the union’s executive director. One reason was the Feb. 12 failure of a revenue bill in the Oklahoma House of Representatives to fund teacher raises and other initiatives through the “Step Up Oklahoma” plan.
“As we were hounding legislators on that one, they said ‘Look, we’re a little annoyed that we were handed this plan and told to pass it. That’s our job,’ ” DuVall said. “We’d seen a number of plans go forward in the Legislature. … There’s always one reason or another that they didn’t pass. We’ve supported all of them.”
While not suggesting how to pay for its proposals, the OEA also said it supports pay raises for all state employees and health care funding hikes to the tune of $213 million and $256 million, respectively.
Supporters of the possible teacher walkout also spoke at OEA’s news conference.
Tulsan Etta Taylor, president of Oklahoma PTA, said, “If we must close schools to get the legislators to do their jobs, then we must.”
The Rev. Clark Frailey, with Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, said his group has been inundated by offers of help from churches all over the state who want to know, “How can we stand by our teachers and kids?”
Public awareness about the possibility of a teacher walkout first came from a survey of superintendents by Chuck McCauley, superintendent at Bartlesville Public Schools.
He said on Thursday that Bartlesville teachers first began considering the idea last summer and that after the failure of Step Up Oklahoma, that conversation picked up with a vengeance.
He said he decided to survey the level of support among other school districts’ leaders when he realized that the “extreme step we’ve discussed before might be coming.”
While the Bartlesville district enjoys incredible local support, McCauley said it is hamstrung by the state in competitive teacher pay: “Our biggest threat is the teacher shortage.”