Teacher Raises

GOP Political Calculation Over Teacher Raises

Was the call among some Republican legislators for teacher raises just a sheer political calculation that made it seemed like they cared when they really knew an increase in pay for educators was never going to happen? It sure seems so now.

About a month ago, I wrote on Okie Funk:

The lack of an agreement on a funding plan may well mean at least some legislators want to be perceived as trying to fight for teacher raises when, in fact, they know that given the dire budget situation there’s no way any significant increase is possible.

So my earlier speculation was correct. There were no raises for teachers in the budget despite calls from Gov. Mary Fallin and House Speaker Charles McCall, both Republicans. In fact, back in April, House Republicans issued a statement that contained this gem of a quote from McCall that made it seemed like teacher raises were a foregone conclusion:

We are including in our budget proposal a line item to fund the first year of the teacher pay raise plan, just as we promised we would do. Our members heard from citizens over and over on the doorstep that a teacher pay raise was a priority of theirs, and it has been one of our top priorities for our members this entire session. The House and the Senate Appropriations Committee have both passed a bipartisan and realistic teacher pay plan that is awaiting the governor’s signature, and the House intends to fund the raise in our budget and send it to the Senate.

Well, that didn’t work out, did it? The lack of any raises for teachers in the budget is a real tragedy for Oklahoma. Teacher pay here ranks 48th in the nation, and teachers are leaving Oklahoma for other states that pay more and offer better benefits. Class sizes are growing, some schools have gone to a four-day week schedule and the state still has a college graduation rate that is significantly lower than the national average. Oh yeah, higher education funding was cut this coming fiscal year by 6.1 percent. Last year, it was cut by 16 percent.

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Where Is The Money For Teacher Raises?

Oklahoma legislators have apparently yet to come to an agreement on how they plan to fund proposed teacher raises and with their session scheduled to end in about a month that’s not an encouraging sign.

NewsOK.com reported that the Oklahoma Senate has not scheduled a hearing on a proposed House bill that would raise teacher salaries by $6,000 spread out over three years. This means it missed a Thursday deadline, although by rule it could still be worked out by the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, according to the NewsOK.com article.

The Oklahoma Legislature, at least in recent years, has been noted for bringing up companion legislation and passing budget deals at the very end of the session, which is a practice that sometimes gives little time for public input on crucial matters impacting the state.

The teacher pay raise, which is a crucial matter given that some teachers here are flocking to other states for better salaries, has been endorsed by a number of Republicans in the GOP-dominated legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin. The sticking point, of course, is that the state faces an $878 million budget shortfall for next fiscal year. How will the raises be funded?

The lack of an agreement on a funding plan may well mean at least some legislators want to be perceived as trying to fight for teacher raises when, in fact, they know that given the dire budget situation there’s no way any significant increase is possible.They want to have it both ways. Even a nominal raise would help, but committing the state to a three-year, $6,000 teacher pay increase without significant tax hikes or additional revenue streams would mean drastic cuts elsewhere in the budget.

(Click "Read more" to continue reading.)

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Where Is The Money For Teacher Raises?

The real question to ask about potential teacher raises next year in Oklahoma is whether the Republican majority in the legislature is serious about finding the money to fund them or if it’s just another GOP meaningless political performance.

I tend to think it’s the latter at this point. In fact, public education and higher education funding is getting slashed once again THIS fiscal year as we found out yesterday. The state faces a revenue failure, which means revenue collections came in recently with a more than 5 percent drop over the budget estimate.

The revenue failure means an immediate $11.1 million cut for public education and a $4.6 million cut to higher education, according to a media report. This, combined with an expected $878 million shortfall for next fiscal year, probably means the grandiose plan for teacher raises is mainly political posturing.

A House committee, however, has passed a measure that, if passed and signed into law, would increase teacher salaries by $6,000 annually over three years, but there’s a huge problem with the plan. It doesn’t identify the funds to pay for it.

Gov. Mary Fallin, of course, has advanced a proposal to increase sales taxes on everything from doctor’s visits to funeral services. Perhaps, we should call these death taxes. Pay more at the doctor’s office for, let’s say, a bleak diagnosis, and then pay more for dying later. But even if the proposal passes, and I doubt it will, would it be enough to fund teacher raises? I don’t think so.

I’ll address Fallin’s plan later in this post, but I want to focus for a moment on the plan to raise teacher salaries. Under the plan, teachers would receive a $1,000 raise the first year, a $2,000 raise the next year and a $3,000 raise the following year. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this plan, although the hyperbole surrounding it seems a bit much.

For example, the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Michael Rogers, a Republican from Broken Arrow, who heads the House Education Committee, was quoted in the media like this about the plan:

(Click "Read more" to continue reading.)

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