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State Senate OKs 2 funding bills

Oklahoma teachers and their supporters will be back at the State Capitol Monday to continue pressure on state leaders to approve funding for education, one teacher advocacy group promised.

And, a Lawton state representative said it's time for the Legislature to start addressing the rest of the budget, while a Lawton state senator said it's time to start putting funding into education.

The comments came late Friday as Senate members adjourned after debating and passing two funding bills, then joining with the House to repeal a funding mechanism that had been included in the new education funding bill passed a week ago and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. House and Senate action had been watched closely all week as teachers and their supporters massed at the Capitol each day to protest and talk to legislators. Most Oklahoma districts, including Lawton Public Schools, were represented and canceled school to allow their teachers and support staff to participate.

Many, including Lawton, have announced they will be closed Monday as well.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Educators Association, said the decision about how long teachers remain at the Capitol is up to legislators and Fallin.

"We'll be back every day until we get this deal done," she said late Friday, adding she doesn't think many legislators believed teachers would continue their protests. "We tried to tell them over and over again. Some of them didn't want to hear it."

Priest said two things must be done before teachers return to the classroom: Fallin must veto the House bill that repeals the $5 state tax on hotel and motel rooms, something calculated to generate $50 million. And, the House must pass a Senate bill eliminating the capital gains tax (House members would not hear the bill this week), then Fallin must sign it.

Senate Bill 1086, approved by the Senate in late March, ends a capital gains deduction now allowed for the sale of real or tangible property located in Oklahoma; stock or direct or indirect ownership interest in an Oklahoma company, limited liability company or partnership; or the sale of real property, tangible personal property or intangible personal property located within Oklahoma as part of the sale of assets from an Oklahoma company. A Senate financial analysis predicts a revenue increase of $120.5 million for Fiscal year 2020 if the bill is passed. House members declined to hear the bills this week.

Priest said teachers are happy the Senate took action Friday to pass the "ball and dice" and "Amazon" tax bills, nicknames given to House bills that allow amendment of existing tribal/state compacts to add some types of table games and sports pools, with an accompanying payment to the state, and that extend a requirement to collect and remit sales tax on internet sales to third party vendors.

OEA seeks repeal of hotel tax veto

But, she said the House and Senate backtracked by repealing the hotel-motel tax, meaning a wash because the two tax bills raise about as much money as will be lost from the hotel tax.

"We call on the governor to veto the repeal of that tax," she said.

The American Federation of Teachers praised legislative action, with the state's largest chapter in Oklahoma City announcing it will hold a telephone town hall meeting with members this weekend to discuss the next steps.

A statement released jointly by Mary Best, president of AFT-Oklahoma, and Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City AFT, praised the Senate decision that they said raises an estimated $45 million to fund public education.

"Oklahoma teachers, parents and school superintendents repeatedly urged the Legislature to address woeful school underfunding and teacher salaries. In Oklahoma and other states, that advocacy fell on deaf ears over the last decade, favoring tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations over the needs of students. This week, teachers' voices were heard throughout the Capitol and beyond, proclaiming that Oklahoma public education can no longer be denied adequate funding and that learning conditions can't be pitted against stagnant teacher salaries. 

"By standing up and advocating for what kids need, teachers let lawmakers know the days of stiffing our kids out of decent education funding must end. The tax bills for online third-party vendors and ball-and-dice gaming are big steps forward and provide a down payment for what is needed to fully fund public schools. Legislators have acted, and we call on Gov. Mary Fallin to sign the bills and respect the efforts of teachers, whose sole objective this past week was to ensure that Oklahoma students get what they need for a bright future."

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