OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill approved overwhelmingly in the House to raise Oklahoma teacher pay by $6,000 over the next three years, but without a funding mechanism, amounts to giving teachers “false hope,” a state Senate leader said recently.
The House voted 92-7 this week for the bill that calls for a $1,000 pay raise for teachers next year, $2,000 the following year and $3,000 in the third year. But each $1,000 pay raise costs the state about $53 million and the Republican leader of the Senate, Mike Schulz (R-Altus), said there is no agreement on how any part of the plan would be funded.
“I think it’s giving a lot of people a lot of false hope that we’re going to find the money this year to do it,” Schulz said. “I think it’s a much better path to put things on the table that you can pay for, and not just put things on the table.”
Schulz said lawmakers already are facing a budget hole of nearly $880 million, and that an agreement should be reached first on how to fill that gap before additional spending is approved.
House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) said he disagreed with Schulz’s assessment and that he’s confident Republican leaders will reach an agreement on how to pay for the first installment of the teacher pay plan and stabilize the budget.
“We understand there are fiscal challenges to full implementation of that, but we are committed to addressing that issue because we believe the people of Oklahoma expect us to do so,” McCall said.
Oklahoma’s average teacher salary of $44,921 is last in a seven-state region and hasn’t been raised since 2008.
Shawna Mott-Wright, a high school teacher and vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, said Oklahoma already is facing a teacher shortage and that many good teachers are fleeing for higher pay in neighboring states.
“The Teacher of the Year in one of my schools is going to Missouri, and she’ll get a $10,000-a-year raise,” Mott-Wright said. “We train teachers and we train them really well, and then they leave.”