There will be no more money for education this year.
That was the message delivered loud and clear Tuesday by state Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, during a Yukon Chamber of Commerce-sponsored legislative breakfast.
Baker, a former Yukon teacher, said the Legislature worked hard to pass a tax plan that will fund pay raises for teachers across the state. Yet, now they are being taken to task by those same teachers because the raises were given while only a portion of the money they requested for classrooms was approved.
Baker, along with Rep. J.P. Jordan and Sen. Stephanie Bice, answered questions for more than 30 minutes about the upheaval underway at the state Capitol.
More than 30,000 teachers and supporters rallied Monday at the Capitol, and more were expected Tuesday to push for increases in educational spending.
All three lawmakers said the funds for education appear to be tapped out.
“We gave teachers raises, we did give support staff raises and we have put money into the formula. I will tell you that teachers are very vocal right now and are advocating for education. I’m trying to be as honest as I can be with every teacher who comes to see me. There is no more money that we are giving you,” Baker said.
Bice, R-Oklahoma City, said much of the concern from teachers is a proposal to add $5 per night to hotel and motel rooms. She said the Senate was unaware about the proposal until the day before it was added to the legislation.
It was rejected by the Senate because of concerns that it might drive away convention business.
A similar move several years ago cost Midwest City at least four conventions, she said.
Baker said despite the decision not to move forward with the hotel-motel fee, improvements in the economy should cover those losses.
“We are looking at ways to replenish that. … We are under the belief that the money will be there and we won’t have to pass another tax,” Baker said.
In fact, Baker said she would not vote for another tax increase.
“I appreciate the teachers who are coming to advocate for their classrooms and are advocating for the profession, but there is no more money that will be given this year. I will not put my vote this year on any other taxes. It has been very difficult to put my vote on a tax to begin with, but I have done so in the hope that we could restore some confidence in our agencies,” Baker said.
Meanwhile, Bice said despite comments made that this is only a one-year deal, it isn’t. They are permanent increases in the pay schedule.
Bice also said lawmakers are getting mixed signals on how education professionals want the money spent.
“We felt it made sense to put more money into teacher pay and less into the classroom. Now, all the things we are hearing, ‘Dang it, you should have put more in the classroom.’ We can’t win for losing. We felt that we were hearing that pay was more important. Now, it’s just the opposite. It’s frustrating on our part,” Bice said.