Striking Oklahoma Teachers Share Their Demands

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Oklahoma teachers spelled out the terms for ending their strike for the first time Friday, five days after they walked off the job to protest low wages and inadequate public education funding.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told a cheering crowd at the state capitol that the strike would end if the Oklahoma Legislature passed a measure eliminating a capital gains tax exemption and if Governor Mary Fallin vetoes a bill repealing a hotel and motel tax.

Priest did not commit to what percentage of the resulting revenue should go toward public education.

“The reality is all state agencies need funding because of cuts to all services,” Priest said at a press conference Friday. “We are here asking for education funding because investing in education is investing in the economic future of our state.”

Even if the teachers’ demands are met, Priest emphasized that these were only the terms for ending the strike, and that she still wants additional funding for education. But state lawmakers have said this year’s budget has already passed and that no changes are forthcoming.

Oklahoma teachers reached their breaking point after enduring no pay raises since 2008. State lawmakers tried to avert a strike by passing measures in the past week to raise teacher salaries by $6,100 annually and support staff salaries by $1,250 annually, as well as increase education funding by $50 million. But the increases were only a fraction of what the teachers wanted, so the strike moved forward.

The Senate approved two additional bills on Friday that are designed to raise $40 million more for schools. One would expand tribal gambling in the state to include games with a ball or dice, while the other imposes sales tax on certain internet sales.

Fallin, a Republican, has endured heavy criticism for supporting tax cuts and business subsidies that have eroded state agency budgets. She angered teachers on Tuesday when she compared their demands to teenagers “that want a better car.”

According to an Associated Press report, defiant teachers have loudly jingled their keys at the capitol since those comments, chanting, “Where is our car?”

Oklahoma’s largest school districts in Oklahoma City and Tulsa will remain closed Monday due to the strike, but several teachers in rural districts that have chosen not to close have returned to work.

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