As local and national news outlets flocked to cover Oklahoma teachers walking out of their schools Monday, the door of Sen. Rob Standridge’s office burst open to a packed reception area to reveal a growing trend: four distraught educators disappointed in their senator for voting against their new pay raise. One teacher stormed into the hallway, chanting “Vote him out!” while another solemnly fought back tears and followed behind.
Standridge (R-Norman) was just one lawmaker who voted against HB 1010XX, a roughly $400 million revenue package passed by the Senate and House last week that guarantees Oklahoma teachers an average $6,100 pay raise starting next year.
“I think for the overwhelming most part, they were respectful and courteous,” Standridge said of his interactions with teachers and education advocates Monday.
Even though legislators passed bills funding and requiring teacher raises, more than 200 Oklahoman schools closed to stage a teacher walkout. Teachers, parents and protesters encircled the state capitol after their original demand of a $10,000 salary increase failed. The walkout is ongoing and is expected to continue this week.
“I completely understand their frustration. I am frustrated for them,” said Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow). “There is no long-term solution, and I hope they shift their talking points and messaging to, ‘We want real long-term solutions through reforms rather than just through taxes.'”
But many teachers who flooded the Capitol on Monday expressed their frustration with specific lawmakers as opposed to calls for education reforms.
Jeremy Davis, a Norman teacher, stood outside Rep. Bobby Cleveland’s (R-Slaughterville) office, shouting that the representative had kicked him out during the morning hours of Monday’s teacher walkout.
“He told me they were going to tap the Rainy Day Fund next year to fund 1010XX and that he always supports teacher raises,” Davis said. “Then he told me to get out of this office.”
Cleveland replied: “I support teacher raises. This guy is lying.”
‘We need to make a structural change’
Many of the lawmakers who opposed HB 1010XX believed that concrete reforms needed to be put into place to assure teacher salary increases would be more fiscally responsible than simply taxing Oklahoma citizens. Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) who also voted against the revenue package, expressed that sentiment.
“I believe teachers do deserve a raise. I don’t think we need to raise taxes in order to do that,” Dahm said. “The Oklahoma model of government is very archaic. We need to make a structural change to the way we operate instead of just adding more money to what we currently have.”
Other lawmakers criticized how HB 1010XX was moved direct to the floor calendar and bypassed the committee process. Cleveland said the bills were passed “in the dead of night.”
But Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) pushed back on that argument.
“Most of the ‘No’ votes were people who vote ‘No’ on any kind of tax increase. This was not something that was shoved down their throat overnight,” McBride said. “It’s nothing new. There was nothing new in this plan, so that’s just a cop-out for them.”
McBride was integral to the revenue deal getting done, sitting down with House Democrats and getting terms of an agreement signed by three members of the minority party who said all 28 of their votes would be on board.
“I think in my district, Moore Public Schools, they like what we did. They would rather take the [$400 million] or whatever it was over nothing, but they don’t want it to stop there,” McBride said. “They would like to see more money going to the classroom.”
‘I thought that was totally inappropriate’
Several of the Republican House members who voted against HB 1010XX appeared at a press conference last Wednesday with former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who called for conservative Oklahomans to campaign against Republicans who voted for the tax increase package.
Coburn bashed Republican House members who had previously campaigned on a platform of not raising taxes.
“To tell people you’re going to run on the platform and then do something the opposite of that, it shows that you’re unvirtuous,” Coburn said.
But McBride fired back Monday, saying Coburn knows that Oklahoma has a balanced budget requirement in its Constitution and cannot “print money,” a la the federal government.
“I’m not going to recruit a candidate to run against any of them, and I cannot believe they actually stood up there with Tom Coburn,” McBride said of his colleagues who supported calls for GOP primary challenges. “I thought that was totally inappropriate, and especially with the members of this so-called Platform-Caucus in the room with them at the time. I thought that was totally uncalled for, and I’ve asked for the speaker to deal with it. They can be a part of our caucus, the Republican Caucus, but we can’t sit in on their caucus. So you’ve got a division. A divided House can’t stand.”
(Editor’s note: Carson Williams contributed to this story.)