I admit it, I urged teachers to return to the classroom and take care of their students.
On Monday, teachers from across Oklahoma came to the State Capitol. Some came to thank legislators for passing major education legislation. Many, however, came to express their demands for more tax increases and education funding.
I met with a large group of educators in the early afternoon.
Here’s a brief summary of what was discussed during that 45 or 50 minute gathering.
I was asked if I support education and teachers.
I pointed out that I spent around 20 years in the classroom, that one of my campaign promises was to fight for a teacher raise, and one of my first bills was for a teacher raise. I have repeatedly voted for tax increases to fund education and raises. I and many of my fellow freshman Senators refused to approve last year’s budget bill unless common education was held harmless.
I think that demonstrates where I stand.
What about the hotel tax?
I said it would be repealed and we are already setting things in place to replace those funds, and not by cutting other agencies.
Is the teacher pay raise being cut?
No. The education budget has been signed by the Governor.
Will there be more funding for education?
Not much this session. But the Senate Republican caucus and I are committed to developing a long range plan for education and its funding. I am certainly open to suggestions on that.
Would I support more tax increases?
No. I am interested in getting rid of wasteful tax credits.
And, in my opinion, we are done raising taxes in the Senate.
What about funds for leaking roofs or dilapidated buildings?
I pointed out those things are not state funded, but capital expenditures paid for with local ad valorem dollars and bond issues.
I was chastised for suggesting in my previous column that some teachers were threatening to extend the teacher walkout to push a political agenda. I heard declarations that those present were all there for the children.
As I looked around the room I said that I hoped that was true, that no one in that room had anything but the best interests of the kids at heart, but if they’d read my emails or heard the phone calls we get they’d know that isn’t the case with everyone.
One teacher told me that if we didn’t redo our legislation and raise more taxes that she would continue the walkout, and others seemed to feel the same way.
Then I was asked why I was doing nothing to help end the walkout.
Allow me to restate clearly what I told this group of teachers.
We just passed the first revenue bill in the Oklahoma legislature since State Question 640, which requires 75 percent votes in both chambers, and was passed in 1992. We passed the largest teacher pay raise in the history of Oklahoma. It ranges from $5,000 to $8,000 and averages $6,100. We protected textbook funds. We guaranteed raises to support staff even though support staff salaries are determined by local school boards and not the legislature. We filled an education budget hole of over $50 million. We increased taxes a half billion dollars with recurring revenue for now and into the future.
I think I have done quite a lot for education, and I intend to do even more.
I also think any further walkout is pointless. When asked what I thought teachers who are planning to continue their walkout should do, I said they should return to their classrooms and take care of their students.
Apparently, to some, that is a rude and outrageous statement.
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) was elected in 2016 as the state senator from District 1 which encompasses the northeast corner of Oklahoma including Craig, Delaware, Mayes, and Ottawa counties. Contact him at 405-521-5561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.