OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Public school teachers across Oklahoma expressed shock and disappointment on Wednesday after the resounding defeat of a state question that would have imposed a 1 percent statewide sales tax to fund public education, including a $5,000 teacher pay hike.
Meanwhile, public school supporters sought to allay those concerns by pointing to key victories in state House and Senate races and assuring teachers that the push for a pay raise will resume in earnest during the legislative session that begins next year.
"I believe the statement made by the voters yesterday was not that they don't believe teachers deserve a pay raise. I think the statement was that legislators need to do their job and come up with a better plan," said state Sen. David Holt, an Oklahoma City Republican who said he's working on proposal for a $10,000 annual pay raise for teachers.
Incoming Republican House Speaker Charles McCall said it's likely lawmakers will consider a phased approach to increasing teacher pay, but that it will undoubtedly be a priority for the new 75-member strong House Republican caucus.
"I believe that teacher pay is important to a lot of people across the state, the vast majority of the people," said McCall, "and it will be a goal of mine and my administration to find a solution for that. No question."
Elise Robillard, a French teacher and the current president of the Education Association of Moore, said that while many teachers are devastated by the vote against the proposal, she hopes it will motivate them to keep pushing for change at the Legislature.
"I think they feel hopeless. They feel very frustrated," Robillard said. "I've also heard from many teachers who are preparing now to leave the profession. I suspect many will leave at the semester break in December. Many others will leave at the end of the school year."
For months, polling showed strong support of around 60 percent for State Question 779, but that support began to fade in the waning days as opponents launched a fierce campaign against it, raising questions about how much of the tax revenue would be spent on things other than teacher pay.
"As opposition commenced, the polling numbers shifted dramatically," said Pat McFerron, president of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, which ran nightly tracking programs to gauge support for the proposal. "The people ended up turning on this plan, but not on funding teacher pay."
The proposal ended up failing with nearly 60 percent of voters opposing it, according to complete but unofficial results.
Despite the question's failure, public school supporters touted several victories in races for legislative seats, including Democrat Mickey Dollens, a high school English teacher laid off amid budget cuts who flipped a state House seat previously held by a Republican.
More than three dozen candidates supported by the newly formed grassroots group Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education also won elections to House and Senate seats Tuesday night, and group organizer Angela Little said she's optimistic that state legislators understand the importance of properly funding local schools.
"We're going to see a whirlwind next session," Little said. "I know we are, and that's the end goal of what we set out to do."