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Sparks: Legislature can end walkout by properly funding education

Sparks: Legislature can end walkout by properly funding education
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Last week’s teachers walkout was certainly historic. For five days, educators and education advocates packed the state’s Capitol, filling it to capacity as they lobbied for more education funding and revenue bills to support it.

Senate minority leader John Sparks (D-Norman) called the week “incredible,” adding legislators who treated the walkout “like a field trip” and expected the teachers to leave after one day couldn’t have been more wrong.

“I’ve heard that this may have been the first time the Capitol was filled to capacity in over 100 years,” he said. “And it was filled to capacity every day. My experience, without exception, was that the educators were informed, respectful, engaging and passionate. They’re looking for a meaningful result.”

While the Senate met early Friday morning, which is unusual, they only passed legislation that will roughly make up for the money lost when the legislature repealed a hotel/motel tax increase last week.

That means the walkout will continue, at least today. Norman, Noble and Moore public schools cancelled class today, and, as long as teachers intend to walkout, they’ll continue to do so.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, said educators will pressure the legislature to eliminate or reform the capital gains exemption, which could raise more than $100 million.

“Closing the capital gains tax loophole would raise significant revenue, and it seems to be the most viable [revenue] option at this point,” he said. “We can adequately fund education in Oklahoma; there’s no reason we can’t have a modern education system.”

As the walkout continues, the social cost of not having teachers and students in classrooms across the state increases, however. The United Way of Norman has been coordinating volunteers and nonprofits services via their community resources web page for the past week (unitedway.org/communityresources), and the organization said nonprofits that have been providing extra services for free last week will need to start charging fees or receive more community donations. State standardized testing was supposed to begin in many schools last week.

Sparks said he understands the frustration with the disruption to many people’s daily routines, but added the walkout is not on Oklahoma teachers.

“It’s not the teachers’ fault that the legislature has failed to provide them with the resources they need to do their job,” he said. “The legislature has the ability to provide teachers with those resources and bring an end to the walkout. For individuals who think the teachers have all the resources they need to the job, I would encourage them to obtain an emergency certification and walk into a classroom.”

Regardless of when the walkout ends, Sparks said he hopes the idea that the state’s education budget is somehow bloated has been dismissed.

“We’ve got to be careful to make sure nobody believes that education is ‘fixed’ once this walkout ends,” he said. “We’ve been starving public education for a decade now. It’s unreasonable to believe we’re going to take care of all the funding problems by passing one or two bills.”

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