Editor’s note: This is the second of a 3-part series detailing a group a area teachers’ participation in the statewide teacher walkout.

As crowds converged on and around the state Capitol, Oklahoma teachers were meeting with lawmakers to lay out the harsh realities of their profession.
On Monday, a teacher delegation from Ardmore City Schools met with State Representatives Pat Ownbey, Tommy Hardin and Senator Frank Simpson. On the heels of House Bill 1010xx’s passage, they were there to thank them for the increased pay and funding, then explain why more was necessary.
They scheduled separate meetings with Ownbey and Simpson. Due to a time crunch, both met with the group at the same time. About 20 teachers and two lawmakers crammed into Simpson’s office. Some sat on the floor to make room, leading to a few comparisons to their overcrowded classrooms.
“I’m proud of what we did for education, I’ll tell you,” Simpson said. “Is it enough? No, it’s a good first step, and I think what we’ve got to do in the future is have good dialogue with POE (Professional Oklahoma Educators) and OEA (Oklahoma Educators Association) and these other groups ahead of time.”
The group took turns voicing concerns over what happens next, afraid that the now state-mandated pay raises would not be funded beyond the one-year mark.
“We just need you to continue to find revenue because you cannot fund it without money coming in,” ACS Music Director Patti Green said. “So we’re asking you to continue funding and to take care of education.”
Simpson said the pay raise will continue to be funded, but that he couldn’t make promises about what next year’s Legislature might do.
“I think everyone is committed and will continue to be committed to the teacher salaries,” Simpson said. “To say that if oil dropped a bunch education wouldn’t get hit in some way would not be realistic, because already, about half our budget… goes to education.”
During the meeting, State Question 640 was brought up repeatedly as a cause of Oklahoma’s sustained funding woes.
“This is what bothers us in the House,” Ownbey said. “We have members that will debate revenue raising measures and then vote for the teacher pay raise. In fairness, as much as I get frustrated with those members, sometimes they have good reasons, to them.”
They said between State Question 640 and lawmakers who’ve signed pledges to not raise taxes, passing anything was difficult. Simpson said another state question could change the number of votes necessary to pass revenue bills, but efforts to do so have not passed the House.
“This is the first revenue measure we’ve been able to pass in 28 years, but I communicate with constituents who say ‘we’re tired of you raising our taxes every year,’” Simpson said.
Ardmore Educators Association President Amanda Cramer brought up the support staff pay raise, calling it sad in comparison to what teachers were given and what OEA had asked for. Simpson said he and Ownbey both had concerns about the support staff pay raises in general.
“In the history of the Legislature we have never, ever gotten involved in staff pay,” Simpson said. “I don’t want to put so many things on the Legislature that we are indirectly micromanaging education. That’s not good for either of us.”
Cramer brought up Oklahoma’s reliance on oil and gas for funding, something Ownbey and Simpson agreed with, but explained as part of a vicious cycle: Oklahoma’s state funding is so tied to oil and gas that the state invariably struggles when the industry does. The solution is to diversify by attracting different industries to the state, but diversifying requires education, education requires consistent funding, and funding is not consistent because of the reliance on oil and gas.
The original bill contained a hotel/motel tax that was repealed by follow-up legislation. Green asked why the change happened and how they intended to replace the revenues.
“Me personally? I don’t like everything about the revenue raising measure, but this is what it is,” Simpson said. “You either have to hold your nose through part of it to get it passed or you don’t pass it at all. We couldn’t cut ourselves out of this because we’ve been making dramatic cuts for the last three years at least.”
Simpson said the proposed hotel/motel tax was removed after several senators said they wouldn’t vote for it. He said the tax was also a surprise addition the Senate didn’t get the chance to fully vet.
“If we had not taken that out or agreed to remove it, we would not be having this conversation today, because we’d still be working on hammering out an agreement” Simpson said. “In the last 18 months we’ve been discussing these items, that (tax) had never come up.”
The group asked about follow-up legislation that would secure funding longterm, asking about ball and dice and capital gains taxes. Green cited the $68,000 cut from ACS’ funding following Step Up Oklahoma’s failure.
“We have to have money to start the school year and we’re not a business,” Green said. “We have to depend on y’all.”
Melissa Knight, an Ardmore Middle School art teacher, said she was an anomaly: An Oklahoma teacher who commutes from Texas.
“I’m here because I love my kids,” Knight said. “I must be crazy, because I don’t understand why I have to go find another job, leave the classroom I love and the people I work with.”
After explaining her routine of carpooling to school for the last six years to stay in her preferred district, she said, through tears, that she may have to leave the state because the pay raise still wouldn’t be enough for her to feasibly stay.