On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Oklahoma legislature gave final approval to a $447 million tax increase package to raise the salaries of teachers and school support staff across the state.
Governor Mary Fallon, also a Republican, said she would sign the bill. The revenue will be generated by new taxes on tobacco and fuel, among other things. Oklahoma news sources say it’s the first tax increase passed by the legislature since 1990.
Oklahoma teachers had vowed to walk out of the classroom en masse beginning Monday, April 2 if the legislature didn’t take action to increase their long-stagnant pay, which is among the lowest in the nation. The Oklahoma Education Association had demanded a $10,000 increase over three years, which would have required a revenue boost of over $800 million. The legislation passed this week will fund raises of about $6,000.
OEA President Alicia Priest said in a statement Wednesday evening that the bill’s passage was “a truly historic moment” and “will benefit a generation of Oklahoma students and will be felt in every community across this state.”
The Monday walkout may still be on. “While this is major progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect. Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Oklahoma students,” Priest wrote. However, it may end up being a one-day, symbolic gesture rather than a sustained strike, according to the Oklahoman.
Oklahoma teachers were inspired by the successful strike in West Virginia, where educators similarly exerted pressure on recalcitrant GOP lawmakers to win a major victory. After a nine-day strike, Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill giving all public school teachers (and state employees) a 5 percent pay hike earlier this month.