By KAY BOJORQUEZ
News Education Editor
and Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Along with thousands of Oklahoma teachers, approximately 75-100 Ponca City teachers and community members descended on the Capitol via carpool and by a bus provided to the school by local patrons. The rally participants descended upon the Capitol to demand lawmakers approve more education funding despite passage of House Bill 1010XX.
These teachers are saying this legislation signed by Gov. Mary Fallin is not enough. The measure increases taxes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production to provide teachers with raises of about $6,100 or 15 to 18 percent.
Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association teachers union, said Monday’s rally could lead to a longer walkout as teachers from across the state press their demands that lawmakers approve more funding for state classrooms. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol estimated that as many as 30,000 people are expected at the demonstration.
“It’s day-by-day, depending upon the Legislature fulfilling their promise,” Priest said. “We’re going to say that our Legislature started the process and they have a moral obligation to invest in our children and our children’s future. That obligation has not been met yet. Funding for our students is an issue in every schoolhouse in the state of Oklahoma.”
The new revenue measures are expected to generate about $450 million, with the bulk going to teacher raises and about $50 million going to general education funding. The teachers union has called for an additional classroom funding of $75 million. It has also criticized House and Senate leaders for passing a measure repealing a $5-per-night hotel and motel tax that was part of the original education package. Repeal of the hotel tax reduces the total package by about $45 million.
“It’s just one more broken promise that our educators have seen over the last 10 years,” Priest said.
Many Oklahoma schools, including the three largest districts, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Edmond, closed Monday to honor the walkout. Some schools are offering free meals to students aged 18 or younger while various churches, faith organizations and charitable agencies are providing free day-care services.
Shelley Arrott, superintendent for Ponca City Schools, says surveys to estimate Capitol rally attendees will be the determining factor for subsequent Ponca City School closures and will be looked at on a day-to-day basis. The surveys close at 5 p.m. and as soon as a count can be made, the information will be rolled out through media sources and school communication tools.
“Our employees will be sent a daily survey at 3 p.m. and [the survey] will close at 5 p.m., said Arrott. “They will indicate on the survey if they will be advocating for education or if they will be in the classroom on the following date. I have encouraged our employees to be engaged in the survey process. The determining factor on the decision to close school, or not, will be if we have enough staff at school to ensure the safety and supervision of our students. As soon as the data is analyzed, information on the status of Tuesday, April 3 and future dates will be pushed through the PCPS Mobile App, posted on our district Facebook page and website and sent to our local media outlets. Whatever the decision, the Ponca City Public Schools Administration and Board of Education definitely support our teachers. Many staff members are conflicted and want to both advocate and be in the classroom for their current students. The teachers’ decisions are not about the raise; they are making decisions to protect the future of Oklahoma education and for the best opportunities for your children. Thank you to our community for the continued support, patience, and flexibility. Together we are stronger!”