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Oklahoma's striking teachers seek more funds, Republicans say they are done

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A strike by Oklahoma educators demanding more school funding extended to a 10th day on Wednesday, as the state’s Republican leaders warned they planned no further increases after approving $450 million in new revenue to boost teacher pay.

Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

Schools in the state’s largest metro areas serving hundreds of thousands of students remained closed the day after Republican Governor Mary Fallin signed into law two bills that raised taxes but fell short of the teachers’ demand for $150 million above what had already been approved.

“The governor and lawmakers keep closing the door on revenue options when Oklahomans are asking for a better path forward,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest union for teachers, with about 40,000 members.

The strike is part of a wave of actions by teachers in states that have some of the lowest per-student spending in the country. A West Virginia strike ended last month with a pay raise for teachers, and educators in Arizona protested before classes on Wednesday, without skipping work, to seek enhanced education funding.

Many of Oklahoma’s largest districts, including the state’s biggest, Oklahoma City, said they would remain closed on Thursday because of the strike. But a few other large districts that allowed teachers to walk out, including Moore and Bartlesville, have ordered schools to reopen, saying a continued closure would adversely affect school schedules.

The Oklahoma strike, which began on April 2, has closed public schools serving about 500,000 of the state’s 700,000 students.

Fallin has already approved legislation passed by the Republican-dominated legislature that would raise teachers’ wages by an annual average of $6,100, but teachers are holding out for a $10,000 raise over three years and other increases in school funding.

Saying that education funding was wrapped up, Fallin signed a bill on Tuesday aimed at expanding revenues from Native American casinos and one that would raise about $20 million from internet sales taxes, her office said in a statement. Fallin also approved a bill that repealed a hotel tax, a measure that teachers wanted vetoed.

“As far as this year, we’ve accomplished a whole lot, and I just don’t know how much more we can get done this session,” state Representative John Pfeiffer, a House floor leader and top Republican lawmaker, told reporters on Tuesday.

A non-partisan poll released on Friday showed 72 percent of voters in Oklahoma, where teachers’ pay has languished near the bottom among U.S. states, supported the walkout.

Additional reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa, Okla.; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney