September 21, 2015

House Budget Chair: Teacher Pay Raises Are Probably Off the Table

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A push to increase Oklahoma’s teacher pay appears dead in the water for a second year in a row because of an expected larger budget shortfall, a key legislator indicated Monday.

Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, said Oklahoma teachers need to be paid more, but the financial resources are not likely to be available when the Legislature convenes in 2016.

Sears said it’s too early to know how much lawmakers will have to make up in the fiscal 2017 budget. Some have said the state could face a shortfall of as much as $1 billion, due in part to declining oil prices and a reduction in the income tax rate.

Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s 2015 election platform included a plan to raise teacher pay by $5,000 over five years while adding five days to the school calendar. That plan hit a wall in the Legislature this year because of a $611 million shortfall.

“I’m well aware of her (Hofmeister’s) plan, and I know its something she’s been very supportive of,” Sears said. “Depending on the hole, this is probably not the year that would be a proposal that would move.”

Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for Hofmeister’s office, said the superintendent will continue to push her plan as schools deal with a teacher shortage and larger class sizes.

“Certainly the superintendent recognizes the significant budget challenges facing the State of Oklahoma,” Bacharach said, “but the teacher shortage and crisis in education are not going away.”

Bacharach did not say how Hofmeister will promote her plan.

The Legislature spared common education from cuts in the fiscal 2016 budget while most other programs were reduced. Most of the shortfall was filled with one-time funding.

Sears said it’s too early to say whether education will face a cut in the 2017 budget. Lawmakers hope to have a better picture of the state’s financial situation in November.

“Education remains a priority and we are going to do everything we can to keep education as a top priority,” Sears said.

Oklahoma has not increased its base teacher pay since 2008.

The state 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.

  • dewayne Bradley

    How about cut our politicians pay by 5%.

    • Justin

      I here what you are saying from a fairness standpoint, but practically it wouldn’t matter. For most of our elected officials, their pay for being a legislator is not a significant part of their income. Cutting legislative pay wouldn’t save the state enough money to address any problems, but it would further prevent more people from running for office.

      No all of these problems resolve around our never ending series of tax cuts and tax loopholes.

      • amy

        you must not be aware that a first year legislator makes 38K, plus benefits, plus expeneses for 85 contracted days. I am in my 13th year teaching and make less than 35K a year. They are in the top 1/3 of the nation for thier job while teachers in Oklahoma are in the bottom four states. We have career politicians.

        • Justin

          Amy I am aware of what the legislators are paid. What I am trying to communicate is that the amount of money paid to our legislators is not of a scale to address the needed teacher pay increase.
          If for example, we completely eliminated all pay and spending for the House,the Senate, and their staffs the state would have an extra 28.11 million dollars to spend. If this money was distributed evenly across Oklahoma’s 46,000+ teachers though, it would only amount to a $611 raise for each teacher.
          I don’t disagree that teachers along with other state workers who are being paid even less like social workers, mental health counselors, and corrections officers needs a raise. Still the teachers union needs to move on from this sound bite and go after the real culprit in their under-funding: TAX CUTS & LOOPHOLES
          Source the FY2016 State Budget: http://www.ok.gov/OSF/documents/bud16.pdf

      • Debbie Fancher

        How about a reduction in per diem amounts – how about NO per diem amounts for legislators? How much is a legislator’s health care package – and how long does he receive that health care package?
        How about no committee pay?

        • Justin

          $28.11 million. That is every dime going to State legislators, in the form of pay, health plans, per diem, staffs, etc. The problem is not what our legislators are making. That $28.11 million is 1.7% of state spending, even if you redirected all of that to education it would just be a drop in the bucket.

          By comparison, we currently spend $3.3 Billion on general education, and that is only because they have been the most shielded part of our state government from further cuts over the last few years. We can’t significantly improve teacher pay by looking at the expense side; to fix this problem, we are going to have to solve revenues. This means reversing course on tax cuts and loopholes.

  • Scott Harmon

    I’m with Dewayne… If a group needs a pay cut it’s definitely our State Legislature who is responsible for ALL the CORPORATE TAX CUTS and embarrassing funding of public education which makes us the joke of the country. BTW our Legislature has one of the highest rates of pay for our region, but our teacher’s pay is the lowest in the region. Not hard to figure out who is responsible and who is buttering their own bread while ignoring the needs of 90% of the kids in Oklahoma that are enrolled in public school. It’s a darn shame!!!

    • Tracy

      I agree partially with both. Our legislators should get out of their glass houses. When 2 big oil/gas companies get over $600 million in tax credits, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure where a Billion dollar shortfall comes from. We are not a poor state, just a poorly ran state! There is a misconception among our Republican Leadership that a surplus of money makes them bad stewards of our money. The opposite of this is even biblical. What happened to those who took the talents they were given and increased them? They were blessed with even more…not so for the one who hid it in the ground. Quit giving our revenue sources away and put our tax dollars to work! When I say “our”, I mean “all” individuals and corporations alike!

    • kathy talkington

      Call clap clap! Well said!

  • Nora

    What I think is embarrassing is that Oklahoma is again in this position. Did we learn nothing from the previous oil booms? Maybe it’s because we can’t afford to have the latest history information taught to our children. Whenever there is a boom…a bust will follow. It’s not a mystery.

    The excessive spending the last few years as well as the tax breaks given to certain business has the State in a tough spot. And, why are our elected officials surprised? I’m not. Many of the people I know are not. I think most people could see this day coming. They just chose to ignore the inevitable. So, now the ordinary people of Oklahoma will have to pay for it.

    I am very tired of our elected official preaching fiscal responsibility when they show no responsibility themselves. We through money as lost causes, at glorious attractions to get people here, at tax incentives to bring who again? What about taking care of the long-term citizens of this state?

    Just disgusted with them all.

  • Peg O’Neal

    I am absolutely certain that the income tax reduction scheduled for January 2016 will NOT be suspended due to the 2nd consecutive budget shortfall in this State. There is no excuse for Oklahoma to claim “insufficient funds” while the tax rates are skewed to benefit the wealthy. We cannot continue to provide even minimal services, including education, to the population of this state with this “governing” body. But, if the objective is to cause current state-funded systems to fail in order to “privatize” them and make them for-profit services, then we are well on our way.

  • Terry Barbre

    This is crazy. I was raised in Oklahoma and taught there for one year. I now teach in Wyoming. My salary is roughly $82,000. With benefits, my total compensation is around $106,000. On top of that, my class sizes are much smaller and I’m given very generous planning time. I’d have to be insane to ever move back to Oklahoma.

  • sean cummings

    Is this about falling oil prices or just poor management. The 660 million this year was actually because of two tax cuts. We HAD enough revenue before that. Let that sink in …..

    • Justin

      We have cut taxes so many times in the last decade that even though the state economy (GDP) has increased by 47.2% in the last decade, the general revenue fund has only increased by 4.8%, not nearly covering inflation.
      Sources: Bureau of Economic Analysis and Annual State Budgets

      We will never again have enough money to cover even the most basic state services until we start fixing how much we have messed up our tax structure over the last several years.

  • Neva

    That State Workers have not had a raise in 10 years. I hear no one worried about us. I am single and only have to worry about myself but what about the women as sole support for her children on the horrible pay. I do not begrudge the teachers a raise but what about us. None of my friends in other states can believe this.