By Rep. Mike Sanders
I commend teachers from my district who visited my Capitol office this week. They were respectful in their questions and patient in listening to answers. I have no problem with teachers taking time to visit their government in the people’s house, but I’m grateful as well to the schools that stayed in the classroom. I also want to thank community and business leaders who have called or emailed to thank me for my support of education.
The House and Senate last week passed the largest K-12 education budget in state history -- $2.9 billion that will support an average teacher pay raise of $6,100 beginning in the 2018-19 school year, school support staff raises of $1,250, $33 million in textbook funding, $24.7 million in added health care benefits, and an additional $17 million to be distributed through the school funding formula to support classroom instruction. The budget is more than $480 million above what schools received for the current fiscal year, and about $400 million above the previous highest budget in 2009.
With that being said, there is lots of incorrect information being shared.
In February, the Oklahoma Education Association spokeswoman stood in the House lounge supporting a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for all state teachers. Less than two months later she’s unhappy with the higher pay raise the Legislature secured. She’s also not satisfied with the largest education budget ever passed.
This is unfair to those educators who appreciate and support the education budget and the pay raises passed. It is unfair to most of the state’s 42,000 teachers who are not part of a union.
I also want to make note of the fact that for the first time in 30 years, a compromise funding measure cleared the hurdle of getting more than 76 votes in the House. I’m not asking for a pat on the back for this; I just want people to realize how unprecedented this is.
And yet the union clamors for more. It works its members into frenzy by telling lies and half-truths.
Here are the facts:
Fact: Education will receive about 53 percent of the state budget. More than 60 other state agencies – including transportation, health and mental health care, and public safety will share the rest.
Fact: We passed the largest K-12 education budget in state history. We gave teachers the largest raise in state history. This puts beginning year Oklahoma teachers at the highest pay rate in the region and all teachers at the 12th highest pay in the nation when cost of living is factored.
Fiction: We don’t have enough to pay for the raises or the education budget, and this is just a temporary fix.
Fact: The governor’s signature guarantees the $2.9 billion budget for K-12 education. We passed measures that will raise more than $500 million in recurring revenue for the state. This includes raising revenue from the oil and gas industry as well as taxing cigarettes and little cigars at a higher rate. We also adjusted the price of gasoline and diesel, which has not been done in 31 years, and we passed tax reform measures that will result in additional revenue. Even without the hotel/motel tax that was part of the original package, we have plenty of revolving funds, unclaimed property money and other funding sources to shore up this budget until the state economy hits full recovery. That is already happening, with collections each month exceeding last year at a record pace. We anticipate ending the fiscal year with a surplus instead of the revenue hole first predicted. All of these monies are recurring. That means, these monies come back every year.
Fiction: We are giving money to roads and bridges and health care and not education.
Fact: Some of the revenue raised will go to roads and bridges and health care funds, but we will swap the dollars currently used from the general revenue fund for these services and give them instead to education.
Education and our teachers have always been a priority for me. When we educate students and prepare them for the workforce and to be good citizens, we save in other areas such as mental health care and incarceration. That’s why I fought so hard to raise revenue to properly fund education. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.