McALESTER — Teachers and others holding signs promoting better statewide education funding lined the streets Wednesday to Spirit AeroSystems, where Gov. Mary Fallin spoke during a celebration of the company’s new fabrication center.
Following the event, Fallin called the pay raise she approved last week a “giant step forward.”
“… That’s not to say (education funding) won’t be a priority in the future,” the governor told a group of reporters after the Spirit news conference. “It will always be a priority for our state. Over 50 percent of all money in all of our state budgets is spent toward education. It shows that education is a priority.
“We didn’t get to 48th or 49th in education rankings overnight. This has been going on for decades upon decades upon decades. Now we’ve made a giant leap forward. I think the Legislature should be congratulated on revenue that was very hard to get to …”
Wednesday was the third day of the statewide walkout that has brought thousands of teachers to the Capitol. Fallin said the bill she OK’d last week will provided on average a $6,100 annual increase and lift the state from seventh in the region to seventh in teacher pay.
The Oklahoma Education Association listed three teacher demands that would end the walkout: fill the $50 million gap created in hotel/motel tax the Legislature repealed last week, pass a bill that would bring in revenue by allowing “ball and dice” gambling and find additional revenue sources to increase funding for schools.
“There are some teachers that would like more,” she said. “We hear that. We understand that. That’s been a lot of the message at the Capitol.
“But we also have to fund prisons — prisons are a big issue in McAlester — our social services, health-care services, the poor and the needy … “
Fallin said teachers descending upon the Capitol has been a great opportunity for people to view democracy and express their opinions.
“I think everybody needs to be respectful, whether it’s the teachers, whether it’s the legislators, whether it’s the public,” she said. “… We need to lower some of the hostility at the Capitol, whatever side it might be. Respect people. Respect that these are not easy decisions …”
“… It’s not going to change to give them everything they want in one vote,” she said. “But it’s a major step forward to give a 19 percent increase in education funding for our state in the total overall appropriations, to give a 15 to 18 percent pay raise for our teachers.
“For those who are complaining, `We want more, we want more, we want more,’ that’s a nice pay raise, an average of $6,100 …”