As the House worked through its floor deadline this past week, lawmakers continued to work hard on a teacher pay raise plan. This can sometimes feel like an insurmountable feat, but I remain committed to getting this done. The time is now.
Despite the high tensions surrounding the possible teacher walkout, I’m encouraged by the number of people actively following what happens in state government. Local politics tend to be overshadowed by what happens at the national level, but decisions made on the state-level are generally more impactful to you.
Of course, I wish this increased advocacy and activism had come about because of something positive, but I truly believe an informed public is a better public. Your frustrations are understood, and I share them with you. By harnessing the energy of teachers, superintendents and parents, I believe we can all find common ground and develop a solution that will work. Working across the aisle, bringing stakeholders to the table and doing some honest-to-goodness brainstorming will help us get there.
This change will not happen overnight. April 2 is fast approaching, and bills don’t become law instantaneously. Once a deal is reached, language must be drafted. The process itself of passing nearly any bill takes at least five days. That’s not to mention the fact that the Oklahoma Education Association’s request of $800 million for this upcoming fiscal year is a near-impossible task.
We’ve tried to raise taxes – even just to the tune of $160 million in the form of a cigarette tax increase – several times over the past year. Each time, a small minority of representatives has used its power as a way to prohibit progress. The House has passed a series of reforms that will help us better grasp our state budget, but we’re still far short of the $800 million OEA wants.
I do not say this to discourage a walkout. In fact, I encourage teachers to follow their hearts these next few weeks. Make your voices heard. Come visit me at the Capitol. Visit other lawmakers. Do whatever you need to do. I hesitate to give you false hope, though, because I honestly cannot envision a scenario where lawmakers are able to deliver on every OEA demand – especially before April 2.
Are teachers and support staff deserving of a significant raise? Without a doubt. Am I fighting to make that happen? Every single day. I am staunchly supportive of our educators, and I cannot fully express how appreciative I am for their dedication to our state’s future generations. My desire is to reach a compromise where the solution will both provide immediate relief and long-term growth opportunities for teacher salaries. Perhaps then we will start effectively recruiting teachers, rather than throwing up our hands in exasperation. I believe we can do this if we stop insisting on a Republican plan or a Democrat plan and demand an Oklahoma plan – a plan that is good for all Oklahomans.
Lastly, I have one quick bill update: my measure forming a commission to investigate elderly abuse, neglect and exploitation passed the House and is headed to the Senate. I am truly grateful for the support, and I’m excited that we seem to be on track to better protecting our senior citizens.