Oklahoma Republicans Are Melting Down Over Statewide Teacher Protests

News & Politics

Oklahoma teachers have spent the past two days at the state capital demanding not only better pay, but more funding for schools that goes directly into the classroom.

Republican lawmakers in the state have been caught trying to pull a switcheroo on laws they passed to raise pay and taxes. GOP legislators have also taken to local news and the House and Senate floors to trash teachers and blame funding shortages on everbody but themselves.

Over the week, the legislature passed and the governor signed a measure that would increase teacher pay by $6,000 annually. Teachers denounced the measure because while the pay increase might be beneficial, it doesn't address the larger concern about adequately funding schools and money in classrooms for children. Immediately after Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed the law in a public ceremony, lawmakers began repealing pieces of it.

Fallin then said that she hoped teachers would come to the capital to say “thank you,” according to one Journal Record reporter. When they didn’t, Fallin told the Tulsa World  that the educators were “acting like a teenage kid that wants a better car.” She then tried to claim the teachers were Antifa protesters.

Republican lawmakers then spoke with local news outlets to denounce schools and the teachers.

In an interview with KWTV News 9, state Rep. Bobby Cleveland told teachers to get back to the classroom when the walkout began.

State Rep. Kevin McDugle told KJRH reporter Travis Guillory, “I’m not voting for another stinking measure when they’re acting the way they’re acting.”

Two different teachers reported hearing state Sen. Wayne Shaw of Grove, Oklahoma trash the schools in his own district. “It's not like Westville is the brass ring of Oklahoma schools,” he reportedly said.

Westville resident Vickie Hanvey railed against Shaw’s statements, saying the only “brass rings” in Westville schools are the teachers, counselors and principals.

One solution state Sen. Marty Quinn of Claremore proposed was for teachers simply to take different jobs if they don’t like their low pay. It’s unclear how he thinks schools would continue without anyone working there. He also told student Ariel Grimes that she was “too young” to understand the school funding crisis. She told KOCO News she was then told to leave.

Quinn later told reporters he would have used different words but blamed Ariel, claiming she took him out of context. She noted that the local bank in Claremore pays for copy paper because the schools are too poor.

Rep. Dale Derby confessed to Fox23 that he told Owasso teachers in his district that the problem was “that Democrats owned this state for 100 years. Republicans have been in charge for 10 years and we’ve gradually picked it up.”

According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, school funding dropped significantly 10 years ago when the GOP took over the state legislature. Fallin was then elected in 2010 and the GOP held all state-wide offices. The number of students in each school has also gradually increased.

(Chart via the Oklahoma Policy Institute)

Derby later blamed the schools. “Oh, your local school districts squandered the money,” he told Fox 23.

He then claimed that they didn’t have the funds to distribute. Indeed, there is “not enough money in all of Oklahoma to fix education,” Derby told teachers.

State Rep. Josh Cockcroft of Tecumseh repeatedly cut off the microphone of House minority leader Scott Inman when he tried to speak out in support of the teachers, one educator reported.

In a 2016 poll, 65 percent of Oklahomans said that the state spends too little on students. Indeed, the state ranks 47th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to Census Bureau data. When it comes to teacher pay, Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation, making $13,705 less than the national average. Teachers have reserved space in the capital through at least April 13.

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