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‘Step Up Oklahoma’ for teacher pay

An Oklahoma state bill that advocated the highest tax increase in the state’s history and a $5,000 pay raise for teachers failed to pass through the OK House of Representatives on Feb. 12. It needed 76 votes to be passed, but only secured 63.

The passing of the bill, initiated by business and civic leaders in the group called “Step Up Oklahoma,” would have raised almost $800 million through tax increases on oil and natural gas production, motor fuels and tobacco. In addition, this bill contained a plan to rearrange the structure of income and wind energy taxes in the state of Oklahoma to give educators an annual raise.

Hundreds of teachers and bill supporters rallied around the Oklahoma City Capitol building on the morning of the vote, attempting to persuade lawmakers to back their efforts. Unfortunately for the teachers of Oklahoma, the bill was gaveled out after six hours of open voting on the floor.

“It has been 10 years since the legislature has increased teacher pay,” said Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall. “It is past time to do the right thing.”

Immediately following the vote, however, McCall stated that this was the last revenue plan he would put out on the floor this session.

The state is currently ranked lowest in the nation for high school teacher pay and 49 for overall teacher pay, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average salary for a high school teacher is $42,460.

The failed bill is yet another roadblock for legislators seeking to improve the educational system in Oklahoma.

“The school teachers and those who have dedicated their lives to children, when they hear this kind of news, it’s soul crushing,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister to News9.

As a result, Step Up Oklahoma and surrounding affiliates have been forced to return to the drawing board once again, this time with a more balanced approach to the tax increase in mind.

“If we don’t raise the taxes in the right way – the balanced way that asks everybody to contribute, not just the poor and the middle class – and if we don’t raise enough revenue, then next year when you come in and ask for more, they’re going to say you already got yours,” said Rep. Scott Inman to a group of teachers in the gallery.

Despite the setback, lawmakers are poised and ready to propose a more equitable plan for all Oklahomans at the start of the next session.