Teachers in Oklahoma close strike after obtaining raises and additional funding


Teachers had initially demanded the repeal of a tax exemption on capital gains, which applies to wealthy individuals. Instead, many of the new taxes will be paid by average Oklahoma citizens.

To finance the measures, as well as some limited new revenues for the schools, the Legislature and the governor controlled by the Republicans Mary Fallin instituted new or higher taxes on oil and gas production, tobacco, motor fuels and sales online. The state will also allow ball games and dice, which will be taxed.

"The big victory happened before the strike started," said Brent Bushey, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Schools Resource Center, which provides administrative services for small schools. districts. "It's a short-term victory, but my focus is on how to turn this into a long-term focus on education."

Gregg Garn, the dean of the faculty of education at the University of Oklahoma, said that whoever won or lost has yet to be determined. "Clearly, the teachers made great strides," he said. "In the long run, if the candidates who support education are elected, that is what will determine who won or lost."

Some teachers seemed ambivalent about ending the strike.

"I do not want to say that I agree with 100 percent of us stopping this strike, but I understand," said Cory Williams, a teacher at George Washington Carver Middle School in Tulsa, who participated in protest days at the Capitol. "We will reach the point where it is an unstoppable force that encounters an immovable object, it is difficult to fight against that without changing your tactics."

The recent wave of teacher protests, which shook several conservative states, began this year in West Virginia, where teachers won a $ 2,000 increase from lawmakers. The outcome of the fight in Oklahoma was carefully observed in Kentucky, where some school districts will close on Friday when teachers demonstrate in favor of funding education, as well as in Arizona, where a teacher movement called #RedforEd is demanding increases and more money for schools.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey, under pressure from teachers who threatened to retire, on Thursday announced a plan to provide teachers an increase in 2020, which he said could be achieved without raising taxes.

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In Oklahoma, some grbadroots educators expressed their displeasure on social networks that the union was canceling the strike, and they were discussing whether teachers could continue the work stoppage on their own.

However, the new taxes in Oklahoma represent a victory for teachers in a state that, in the last decade, has pursued some of the deepest tax and public service cuts in the nation.

The oil and gas industry, long favored in the state, was among the groups disappointed by the new taxes.

Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association, said the industry supported an increase in education funding, but should not have been made to support the burden. He said that because oil and gas prices are volatile, the new production tax was "a tough deal for teachers" and pointed to other areas where taxes could have been collected.

"Oklahoma eliminated $ 1 billion in personal income tax," he said, referring to some estimates of state revenues lost by cuts in recent years. But he added: "I do not believe that there is political will to make an increase to the personal income tax".

Industry allies may try to file a referendum to reverse the increase in production taxes.

As in West Virginia, the grbadroots teachers started the strike movement by organizing on Facebook, initially without much help from the unions. The Oklahoma Education Association awarded legislators until the end of April to provide new income or face a strike, but teachers protested and pressured the union to adopt a deadline of April 1. In Oklahoma, union membership is optional for teachers. Even so, the large rallies, marches and lobbying that took place around the strike would not have been possible without the strength of state and national labor organizations.

Parents also participated in the protests. Lanae DeArman of Sulfur, Oklahoma, joined the piqueteros at the Capitol, pressuring their representatives to raise taxes to finance education. She had never been involved in politics before, she said, but the condition of her three children's schools (old textbooks, broken furniture) led her to act.

"It has gone too far," he said about the state's tax cuts. . "You want to be able to keep what you do, but where is the line? I, personally, would be willing to pay a little more if that meant adequate funding for our schools."

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Ms. DeArman said he planned to vote this year and would carefully consider the candidates' education platforms.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents educators in Oklahoma City, said the move could shake up national politics. "A lot of people in these states, including some of our teachers, voted for Trump," he said. Now, he added, the unions hope to spread the message that conservative policies lead to school budget cuts that teachers and parents have been protesting.

"The problem of not falling asleep in these upcoming elections is public education," he said. Weingarten said.

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