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Oklahoma Teacher Walkout Stretches Into Day Four

Oklahoma teachers continued to rally Wednesday at the state capitol, the third day of a planned teacher walkout. Educators filled the capitol to capacity, urging lawmakers to hear their demands for more education funding.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, wants more money for the classroom and it identified legislation they think would achieve that. One is a bill allowing ball and dice games in casinos, another would repeal some capital gains exemptions.

Jamie Christian teaches 8th grade science at Millwood Arts Academy in Oklahoma City. She spent the day urging lawmakers to back the measures.

"Something we’ve been really looking for is the capital gains, which we’ve been told is just not going to happen. Point blank it’s not going to happen. What we would like to see is more negotiations and compromises to happen between the parties so that they can pass any bills now."

Later in the day, a compromise between parties did take place. The House of Representatives took up a bill that would place a sales tax on Amazon marketplace vendors. House Bill 1019XX would raise approximately $20.5 million.

A bipartisan amendment to that bill, filed by unlikely bedfellows in Democratic Rep. Scott Inman and Republican Rep. John Bennett, directs that $20.5 million of new revenue annually into the funding formula for common education. The bill passed the House floor by a vote of 92 to 7 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

But, that compromise may represent the final peace offering to teachers rallying at the state capitol. Representative Kevin Wallace, the appropriations chairman, told lawmakers that this is it, HB1019XX was the last new revenue bill they will get to vote on.

"I do not believe you will see another revenue measure on this floor."

Wallace said compromises made to get last week’s revenue package for teacher pay raises passed eliminated the possibility of reinstating the capital gains tax.

After the vote, Republican Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols claimed he had just been notified by the state Senate that they would hear House Bill 1013XX on Thursday. This is the so-called ball and dice games bill that would allow more table games in casinos. It is expected to generate an additional $20 million in revenue.

Whether the bill will be heard, or passed, by the Senate today has yet to be seen.

Amy Radtke, who teaches science at Norman North High School, wasn’t encouraged by discussions with her legislators.

“We’ve been told that, at least from some of them, they don’t really approve of ball and dice from a religious perspective and that capital gains is a no-go.”

The possible combination of the third party Internet retailer bill and the ball and dice bill would generate a total of $40.5 million. This is the same amount lost by the repeal of the hotel and motel tax last week.

It is unclear if that is enough for teachers to call off the walkout.

For now, dozens of school districts have canceled classes for today, and several have closed schools for Friday as well.

Emily Wendler was KOSU's education reporter from 2015 to 2019.
Rachel Hubbard serves as KOSU's executive director.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
Jacob McCleland was KGOU's News Director from 2015 to 2018.
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