After legislative proposals to fund teacher pay raises failed to gain traction in recent weeks, the Oklahoma Education Association unveiled its own proposal Friday.

OKLAHOMA CITY – With just four scheduled legislative days until lawmakers hit the deadline that could lead to the shutdown of schools across the state, Republicans and Democrats remain divided on how to give teachers a substantial teacher pay raise.

After legislative proposals to fund teacher pay raises failed to gain traction in recent weeks, the Oklahoma Education Association unveiled its own proposal Friday.

In the first year, the OEA plan restores about $310 million in state budget cuts, including $75 million for public education, and provides pay raises of $6,000 for teachers, $5,000 for support staff and $2,500 for state employees.

But the $905.6 million package to pay for the plan mostly includes revenue-raising proposals that have failed to pass the Legislature.

Hours after OEA unveiled its plan, Republican and Democratic legislative leaders offered support for elements of the proposal but stopped short of actually endorsing it.

Minority Leader Steve Kouplen released the following statement on behalf of House Democrats in response to the OEA’s plan:

“We applaud the effort of the Oklahoma Education Association and teachers across the state that have stood up and said ‘enough is enough.’ Oklahoma can no longer afford to ignore its obligation to fund education nor can we afford to continue to devalue the role of public education in society. We realize this fight is as much about respect as it is revenue, and we stand with teachers in this effort. The revenue package outlined today is a step in the right direction. Our hope is that we can use this roadmap to work with Republicans in the House and build a budget that restores Oklahoma’s commitment to education, rural healthcare, state employees and core state services.”

Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz had this to say regarding the OEA revenue plan:

“Senate Republicans agree that teachers deserve a significant pay raise, which is why 85 percent of Senate Republicans voted last week in favor of a 12.7 percent teacher pay raise. A 12.7 percent raise is two-and-a-half times more than what West Virginia teachers received, and would rank Oklahoma No. 2 in the region for average teacher pay. Many of the revenue ideas Senate Republicans support are within the OEA revenue plan. Senate Republicans have worked for the past year and a half on a teacher pay raise plan and will continue working to fund a significant raise."

One of the main sticking points remains how much to raise the gross production tax on oil and gas wells.

The OEA’s proposal to increase the rate from 2 to 5 percent for the first 36 months of production is important because 5 percent is the lowest amount many House Democrats say is needed to win their support.

But many Republicans have repeatedly said the 4 percent rate (as was included in the failed Step Up Oklahoma plan) is as high as they would go.

Some rank-and-file lawmakers, such as first-term Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair), have backed plans that would raise the rate to 5 percent. But GOP leaders, who decide what bills make it to the floor, have yet to endorse any plans at that rate.

Since most major revenue-raising proposals require a three-fourths supermajority to pass the Legislature and would need bipartisan support to do so, lawmakers appear, absent a compromise, to be headed toward a showdown with teachers — who have vowed to walkout until their demands are met.

Two bills currently moving through the legislature that fall in this category are proposals to cap itemized tax deductions, except for charitable contributions, and eliminate the capital gains tax deduction.

The two proposals were among those included in OEA’s demand. But these alone would fund only about half of the $6,000 teacher pay raise that the group is seeking and provide no money to restore budget cuts or give raises to support staff and state employees.

And OEA President Alicia Priest maintained the group’s vow Friday that any teacher pay bills that fall short of their full demands won’t stave off the walkouts.

She additionally ruled out one option discussed by some lawmakers that would allow voters to decide whether to pay for teacher raises by putting various tax-raising proposals on the November ballot.

Lawmakers would only need 51 percent votes to send these proposals to the ballot. But Priest said that is too little, too late.

How long a teacher walkout will last and who will blink first remains to be seen if lawmakers fail to meet the educators’ demands by April 2.

But OEA Executive Director David DuVall said he believes lawmakers will “find the political will” when thousands walk out on the job and come to the Capitol to protest.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.