With Oklahoma teacher walkouts in the news today, it is appropriate to look back at a similar effort more than a quarter-century ago.
"Today truly is a day of excellence in Oklahoma. Today Oklahoma stands tall. A new day is dawning for education in Oklahoma.
"Our state will never again take a back seat in education."
These words were spoken by Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon on April 19, 1990, after the state Senate approved the emergency clause of the landmark $230 million education funding and reform legislation, House Bill 1017.
It was a day of euphoria for Oklahoma teachers who had walked out of their classrooms and held rallies at the state Capitol for four days in support of the bill whose supporters said it would raise the state’s public schools from the bottom to the top in national rankings, the World reported.
Following passage, teachers and students cheered and embraced.
“Never last again,” they chanted over and over again, according to the World story.
The law was expected to raise $230 million in new revenue through a half-cent state sales tax ($104 million), an increase in the individual income tax ($104 million) and a 1-percent boost in the corporate income tax ($22 million).
Reforms included class-size restrictions for kindergarten through sixth grade, school consolidation, higher pay for beginning teachers, abolishing county superintendents, and allowing for early childhood education for 4-year-olds.
Bellmon signed the bill, sitting at a wooden table, on the playground of Marshall Elementary School in Tulsa on April 25.
He called signing the bill “the most pleasurable moment of my political career.”
But the fight wasn’t over. Opponents circulated an initiative petition to repeal the law in the form of State Question 639.
On Oct. 15, 1991, Oklahomans voted to keep the law in place, with 360,318 voting for repeal and 428,680 voting against repeal.
Over the years, many provisions of HB 1017 have been abolished or watered down.
Falling school revenues led to a moratorium in 2010 on the class-size mandate.
And Oklahoma remains near the bottom in education funding nationally.