This story has been updated to reflect Wednesday’s vote to send the bill to the state actuary.
A Republican plan to address Oklahoma’s unprecedented teacher shortage by giving retired teachers a $3,000 pay raise drew mixed reactions from educators and advocates Tuesday.
The plan calls for paying teachers $18,000 if they return to the classroom within the first three years of retirement while still receiving their pension benefits. That’s up from the $15,000 cap currently in place.
The salary cap is removed after three years.
Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond, is the author of the bill, HB 1061, which needs to go to the state’s actuary to determine its impact on the pension system.
McDaniel, chairman of the business, labor and retirement laws committee, said similar bills were introduced last year but were not considered because of their fiscal impact on the pension system. Some of those bills increased the cap while others removed it.
McDaniel’s bill was approved by the committee and sent to the state actuary for a review Wednesday. That review should be done by the end of the year, allowing the Legislature to consider it in 2016.
The actuary will look at the financial impact the bill could have on the pension system.
“Demographics are impacting the situation causing record numbers of the most experienced teachers to retire,” McDaniel said in a press release. “We want to provide an additional incentive for valued teachers to stay in the classroom, but the plan must also be affordable.”
The state Department of Education said Oklahoma was short 1,000 teachers entering the current school year.
The shortage has affected everything from traditionally hard-to-fill positions such as high school math and science and special education, but has also spilled into other positions, including physical and elementary education.
Department spokesman Phil Bacharach said he could not comment on the proposal since the department has not seen the bill.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said increasing the amount teachers earn in retirement was one of the recommendations his association made last year.
The association supported a bill written last session by Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville. That bill removed the salary cap imposed on retired teachers.
“I think it’s very good that the House is looking at their options,” Hime said. “I commend them.
“But I think it’s one of many things we need to do to recruit and retain high quality teachers.”
Hime added the state also needs to attract more people to college to become teachers and find ways to make pay more competitive with that of surrounding states.
Oklahoma has the lowest average pay in the region and the fourth lowest pay in the nation, according to the most recent data from the National Education Association.
That report found the average salary was $44,549, including benefits, during the 2013-2014 school year.
The pay raise for retired teachers also shouldn’t require extra education funding because the raise would affect positions where a teacher already earns full pay, Hime said. The state may face a severe budget shortfall.
School administrators and teachers had mixed reactions on social media. Some panned the plan, saying it will not work. Others said it could serve as a Band-Aid while working on more permanent solutions.
Jason James, superintendent of Alex Public Schools in Alex, said the focus on improving pay for retired teachers is too narrow and that $18,000 is not enough to entice many out of retirement.
“Why not all teachers?” James asked of the raise. “They are attacking the problem from the wrong end. I don’t think the Republicans have the slightest inclination on how to solve the problem.”
Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, a group representing Oklahoma teachers, said that while keeping experienced teachers in the classroom is a good idea, the bill fails to improve education funding.
“A teacher shortfall as extreme as we are experiencing in Oklahoma, however, will not be repaired by such a meager plan,” she said. “Big problems require bold solutions.”