By Rep. Mike Sanders
The speaker of the House last week announced a teacher pay raise plan that would increase base salaries for all teachers by 5 percent beginning next school year and by $10,800 for all first-year teachers and $20,000 for 25-year teachers by the end of six years.
By the end of year six, 25-year career teachers would be earning $70,000 including benefits. This would make Oklahoma teachers the highest paid in the region, 18th in the nation and third-highest in the nation when accounting for cost-of-living.
This plan will give new teachers an incentive to enter this noble profession, and it will give career teachers an incentive to stay in the field and a reward for longevity. Retention of our teachers has been a concern for some schools in the state as they’ve seen the number of emergency certification requests grow. This should help us make sure we have highly qualified teachers in our classrooms.
Several measures that could fund this plan already have passed the House, including a tax reform package that would result in $105 million in savings for the state. Another measure would modernize casino gaming, earning another $22 million at the minimum. Several additional measures are being considered that could result in income for the state but that don’t require the 75 percent vote threshold required by the state Constitution. I will provide a better breakdown of these plans as firmer details emerge. If enough reforms and savings are found, the plan could be accelerated.
In addition, please remember the state is on much better financial footing this year than it has been the past few years as we climbed out of a recession. The economy is dramatically improving, with 13 of 14 months of positive revenue collections to the state treasurer. We can use these increased collections from income and sales tax to fund education along with other necessary state services.
Funding education is part of a long-term conservative plan, just as restoring funding to our state pension plans and roads and bridges has been. We made these areas a priority, and we’ve seen slow, steady growth. We’ll see that happen for education as well. There are those who question our methods, but we have kept our word on flex benefits for all teachers, and we are keeping our word to find the right mechanism to fund teacher pay raises. We’re going to make sure this plan is paid through its entirety.
This is not the $10,000 pay raise being demanded by the state’s largest union, the Oklahoma Education Association. When combined with other costs demanded by that group, the price tag of $1.4 billion over the next three years is too steep of a curve to achieve the 75 percent of votes needed to pass revenue-raising measures in the state Legislature. The House has worked for 14 months to achieve a teacher pay raise, but we have yet to reach the 76-vote threshold required to raise revenue to fund a raise; these efforts also have failed in the Senate. So, instead we will continue to pursue measures similar to the ones mentioned above.
The teacher pay plan laid out by the House speaker is achievable and sustainable.
Teachers are a priority. We value the hard work they do in our classrooms every day to prepare our students for their futures. We want to give them a pay raise that will help put them on a level playing field with their peers in surrounding states and in the nation. This plan does that in a fiscally responsible manner.