Oklahoma Legislature advances teacher pay raise measures – McClatchy Washington Bureau

At least seven measures that would authorize a pay raise for Oklahoma public school teachers are pending in the state Legislature, but lawmakers have not found a way to pay for them.

Oklahoma will be last in teacher pay this year unless one of the bills passes with enough funding to pay for it, The Tulsa World reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/2lYJ7sz ).

The National Education Association says that Oklahoma ranked 42nd in teacher pay in 2007 with an average $43,551, which includes health, life and retirement benefits.

Then, the recession hit, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says Oklahoma has led the nation in cuts to public education per pupil spending since 2008. The nonpartisan group estimates 27 percent of state per pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, has been cut.

For the past five years, the state has lingered at 49th in the nation in teacher pay, just above Mississippi and South Dakota.

Both those states passed tax measures specifically for teacher wage increases going into effect this year. In South Dakota, a half-cent sales tax allowed for an $8,500 boost in teacher pay. Mississippi phased in a $2,500 raise followed by merit raises.

Low teacher pay has been the leading cause of the loss of public educators to other states and career fields. But in November, Oklahomans rejected State Question 779 which would have added a penny sales tax to give a $5,000 raise to teachers.

Last year, state agencies had to cut $1.3 billion from their budgets. This year, a shortfall of an additional $868 million is expected. Last week, agencies were told to cut $34.6 million from their budgets this fiscal year. The biggest hit will be in common education at $11.1 million.

“It is not a game,” said Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger last week. “We need new revenue.”

A measure pending in the House would give a $6,000 raise phased in over the next three years. Six bills pending in the Senate would increase pay in a range from $2,000 to $10,000 a year. Lawmakers say that for every $1,000 in a pay raise, it will cost about $60 million.

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