Nine months after the chanting of Oklahoma teachers filled the state Capitol, one lawmaker is aiming to punish teachers for cutting class to make their voices heard.
House Bill 2214, filed by Rep. Todd Russ (R-Elk City) changes the state's anti-strike laws for public workers to include walkouts and other shutdown related activity. Under the bill, teachers who walk out of class would have their pay stopped until they returned and those on emergency certifications would have their credentials permanently revoked.
“To eliminate or silence support professionals, educators', administrators' voice and then to have a punitive measure that you're going to revoke your teaching certification is very extreme,” Katherine Bishop with the Oklahoma Education Association said.
Bishop said Tuesday education advocates had been expecting some kind of push back after last year’s protests and the wave of educators who ran for office or were elected. She had not talked to Russ about the bill yet but hoped it wasn't filed out of retaliation.
In a statement, Russ, a teacher for 20 years, admitted the bill was filed as a reaction to OEA and the walkout.
"The unions knew [the walkout] was illegal so they convinced teachers to call it a walk out." Adding he filed the bill "since the OEA union did not keep their agreement the last time."
Russ later sent a pair of other emailed comments, several hours apart. Both negated his statements about OEA and unions. The third also included a notice the email was not to be shared, calling his response to a reporter “confidential.”
The OEA is not a union, meaning it does not have recognized bargaining rights. However, it is the largest teachers’ organization in the state. The group took the lead in last year's negotiations during the walkout. Those talks leading to the largest tax increase in state history and $50 million in funding for education. Representative Russ voted for that deal.
The president of the metro’s actual educators’ union, the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, also gave harsh criticism of both Russ and the bill.
Most Oklahomans support public education, elected school boards and teachers. Additionally our citizens support the right to petition government,” OKC-AFT President Ed Allen said. “Unfortunately Representative Russ has extreme views and apparently will do anything to destroy what most hold dear. HB 2214 is an unjust solution in search of a non-existent problem.”
Once session starts in two weeks bills will be sent to their respective committees. HB2214 bill will likely head to the Education committee, on which Russ is a member.