Oklahoma teacher walkout in 4th day; Internet sales tax eyed

Hundreds of Oklahoma teachers packed the state Capitol on the fourth consecutive day of a walkout — even as the Senate was poised to examine a bill that could raise more education funding from sales on Amazon and other Internet sites.

Schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa were closed Thursday because of the walkout. Many other schools were open, but even some of them were represented by at least one teacher at the protests in Oklahoma City.

Besides cramming the Capitol’s rotunda, protesting teachers swarmed the grounds outside, holding signs such as “Stronger Together” and “Help Us!”

Meanwhile, some protesting teachers from the Tulsa area were on their second day of a planned seven-day, 110-mile walk to the capital.

“This whole thing is for our kids, our students. If we’re willing to walk this long and this far, what is the Oklahoma legislation willing to do for our kids?” Heather Cody, a third-grade teacher at Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa, said Wednesday.

Teachers and the state government are at odds over salaries and funding. Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed a bill that raises the average teacher salary by $6,100, but the teachers union wanted that figure to be $10,000.

Fallin also signed a bill that raises education funding by $50 million; the teachers’ union wanted that number to be higher.

More funding is indeed being considered. On Wednesday, the state House passed a bill amendment that would require sales from third-party retailers selling though Internet outlets such as Amazon to be subject to sales tax. The Senate could vote on that measure Friday.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said that measure would provide an additional $20 million annually in education funding.

“This is a win for students and educators and signals major progress toward funding the schools our students deserve,” she said in a statement.

Teachers in Oklahoma say more spending on education is needed, asserting that things such as facilities, equipment and textbooks are run down, outdated or in short supply.

The state ranks 49th in the nation in teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association, in a list that includes Washington, DC. Mississippi and South Dakota rank lower.