Oklahoma Education Association president Alicia Priest called the nine-day teacher walkout a “victory for teachers” after it ended on Thursday, April 12. But KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley say most of the gains came before the walkout began.
Prior to the walkout, Oklahoma lawmakers passed House Bill 1010XX, a $474 million revenue package. A large portion of the package goes toward giving teachers an average $6,100 per year pay raise, beginning in the coming fiscal year. That’s more than the $5,000 teachers would have gotten from the failed Step-Up plan in February, but less than the $10,000 they demanded prior to the walkout.
“Where educators really scored, however, was with the ball and dice approval and with the third party online platform, or Amazon tax, measure,” Ashley said. “Those bills produce revenue that primarily will go to education.”
Eighty-eight percent of revenue generated from so-called ball and dice gaming will be directed toward education, as will all of the revenue from the so-called Amazon tax. Together, those two measures will bolster the state’s education fund by nearly $45 million, unless the taxes bring in less revenue than expected or lawmakers change state statute. Since 2008, state education funding has been cut by $179 million.
During the course of the walkout, some legislators, including Senate Majority leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, expressed frustration with OEA, according to Ashley.
“He [Treat] said in a meeting with reporters that, in some instances within the same meeting, they [the Oklahoma Education Association] would change what they were asking for, and that made it hard even to get to any framework for a deal, much less a deal itself,” Ashley explained.
Teachers may not have gotten all they wanted, but, in total, they secured nearly $500 million more for the upcoming fiscal year than they would have gotten had funding stayed flat.
Funding for teacher pay beyond 2019 is uncertain. Beginning in 2020, a large portion of the funding from House Bill 1010XX will be directed toward health care. The upcoming 2018 midterm elections may hold answers. Candidate filing came to a close on Friday, and OEA vowed to put its weight behind education-focused candidates.
Dick Pryor: Shawn, the teacher walkout is coming to a close after 10 days. In the end, the Legislature provided almost half a billion dollars in new funding for teacher and support staff pay raises and additional money for schools. But most of what educators received came before the walkout. What is actually going to education and when do they get it?
Shawn Ashley: When you look at what lawmakers have provided for common education in the coming fiscal year for fiscal year 2019 the State Department of Education is currently receiving 2.9 billion dollars. That's nearly 500 million more than was appropriated for the current fiscal year, fiscal year 2018.
Ashley: But you have to keep in mind much of that additional revenue comes from House Bill 1010 double X, the revenue raising package which was historic when it was passed by both chambers of the legislature. A large portion of that money actually goes away in 2020. It doesn't disappear from state coffers but it will be directed toward the Health Care Enhancement Fund. Where educators really scored, however, was with the ball and dice approval and with the third party online platform, or Amazon tax, measure. Those bills produce revenue that primarily will go to education. In the case of ball and dice, under existing state law, 88 percent goes to the Education Reform Revolving Fund, also known as the "1017 Fund." And, in the case of the Amazon tax, representative Scott Inman was able to attach an amendment to that bill that guarantees it also goes to the 1017 fund. That's 20 million dollars, in the case of the Amazon tax, and about 25 million dollars, in the case the ball and dice, if it produces the revenue which is expected. That's off the top, meaning that they are guaranteed to get it. In order to not get it, the collections would have to be less than expected, or lawmakers would have to change those allocations, which would draw everyone's attention to it.
Pryor: But OEA, the teachers' union, wanted 200 million in additional funding for schools, and the legislature wound up delivering far less. Why?
Ashley: They would have had to look at other revenue raising measures in order to get there. And, as we've seen over the course of the last year plus at this point, lawmakers are just unwilling to approve certain other forms of revenue.
Pryor: Teachers wanted lawmakers to repeal the capital gains tax deduction, which would have provided an additional 120 million or so, but they hit a brick wall. Why did lawmakers dig in their heels on that?
Ashley: Well, for one reason, in order to pass House Bill 1010 double X, the major revenue raising measure, House Republicans had to make a deal with some of their members, and that is they would not bring the capital gains tax deduction forward. Now why would you not want to bring that forward? It's a business issue. It's also an agricultural issue. The capital gains tax deduction is about 120 million dollars each year. And a lot of that involves the sale of farmland or the sale of businesses, and those interest did not want to see that deduction go away.
Pryor: Do you have a sense for where the relationship between legislators and educators stands now?
Ashley:I think it was a little bumpy coming in. And I think it's bumpy coming out of the teacher walkout. There are a number of reasons for that. First of all, lawmakers approved the revenue-raising measure in the teacher pay raise before the walkout began. And, as we saw on social media, some of them asked then, why are you even here? We've done what you want.
Ashley: But, as the walkout continued, and some of those education leaders were involved with negotiations with legislative leaders, some of those legislative leaders complained that they kept moving the goalposts. They kept changing their ask. Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat was very specific about this. He said in a meeting with reporters that in some instances within the same meeting they would change what they were asking for, and that made it hard even to get to any framework for a deal, much less a deal itself.
Pryor: What should we be watching for over the next few days?
Ashley: The main activity in the legislature for the next few days, for the next couple of weeks, will take place on the House and Senate floor, where the House will be hearing Senate bills, and the Senate will be hearing House bills. Also, we are entering into the final negotiations stage of the budget process. And keep in mind we've already taken care of the single largest appropriation each year, and that is common education.
Pryor: And, with candidate filing over, we'll be talking about politics soon.
Ashley: Oh, very soon.