Governor clarifies controversial comment and addresses talks to end teacher walkout

Governor Mary Fallin says her comment comparing teacher demands to a "teenage kid that wants a better car" did not accurately portray her feelings about the teacher walkout (Anthony West/KOKH)

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said Wednesday her statement comparing teacher demands to “"a teenage kid that wants a better car” was taken slightly out of context. However, she says she does not want teachers to think she is not listening to their concerns.

“The question was ‘The teachers are out there protesting. Why do they think they need more?’” the governor told FOX 25, “The point I was trying to make is, it may not be everything they want but it is a huge step forward, that we passed the largest pay increase for the teachers in Oklahoma; ever in the history of Oklahoma."

“Maybe I could have said it a little more eloquently,” Governor Fallin told FOX 25. She said she did not mean to imply teachers are children or their concerns about classroom funding are not valid.

“I hope there is some appreciation that a lot has been done,” Fallin said. “Is there more to do? Do people want more money to the classrooms, more money into our schools? Absolutely and we recognize that and we will continue to have those discussions.”

However, the governor also says everyone needs to be realistic about what can happen. It took more than a year to reach an agreement to raise revenue that would pass the 75-percent threshold. Some capitol watchers have said that reaching an agreement sooner could have prevented the walkout altogether and kept Oklahoma out of the national spotlight.

The governor says it is possible that quicker action could have kept the classrooms open, but added that tensions have been building for years.

“The frustration has been building for a long period of time,” Fallin said “It didn't just happen in my governorship or the past governorship but a very long time.”

The governor recognizes that as the state’s leader she is the target of much of the criticism. In reality, she is one third of the process to get legislation enacted or revenues raised. She believes the frustration level inside the capitol is high, but more productive work will happen if cooler heads prevail.

“I think the main thing is we need to lower all the tensions at the capitol. We need to focus on moving forward and not looking back in the rearview mirror. We need to focus on the challenges that we have and get things done find solutions to problems move Oklahoma forward and be respectful; it has been on both sides. I've seen a lot of disrespect on both sides of whatever the argument might be by lots of different people.”

Governor Fallin says what has been passed this year is a major increase in education funding. She has signed legislation that not only gives teachers a raise, but adds money for new textbooks and appropriates more money to the school funding formula.

It is the first time in nearly a decade that per pupil spending will go up, however it doesn't erase the years of decline that pushed Oklahoma teachers to the tipping point.

“The point can't be lost that we didn't get to the point where we are today overnight or even over the last ten years,” Fallin said. “We've been ranked at these rankings decade on decades and we took a huge step forward.”

Still, the governor says the message has been received loud and clear. She says discussions are happening on how to replace money that will likely be removed from the latest revenue bill if the Senate votes to repeal the newly enacted hotel/motel tax. The governor says lawmakers she has spoken with want to replace that funding before approving the repeal of the hotel/motel tax to show they are making a good-faith effort at addressing the funding concerns.

She does not believe the teacher walkout will be a matter of which side will blink first. The governor says there are active negotiations to find a solution.

“I think there are active conversations about what [the teachers] would like to see and what the legislators think is possible to get done,” Fallin said, “And I'm hopeful this will be over with pretty soon.”

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