Teacher Pay Raise With No Tax Increase? State Senator Offers Complicated Proposal

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Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City

A Republican senator said he had a “moral obligation” to propose a complicated, six-part plan to give Oklahoma teachers a $10,000 pay raise without a tax increase, despite the state facing a $900 million budget shortfall.

The $400 million proposal, released Thursday by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, instead would seek funding from overhauling tax breaks, by consolidating the number of school districts and by diverting a portion of future budget growth to education.

The proposal includes two elements that would go to voters for approval.

One is a state question requiring the Legislature to find $200 million in savings by reforming tax credits, rebates, exemptions and deductions. Two years of future tax breaks would automatically be canceled if the Legislature failed to act.

The second element, a voter-approved question, would require the state to consolidate the number of school districts to at least 200.

The other four elements are bills that would need to pass the Legislature to divert money toward teacher raises.

A report released last year by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers unions, found Oklahoma had the fourth-lowest average teacher salary in the nation during the 2013-2014 school year.

The report found the average salary in Oklahoma was $44,549, including benefits. The national average was $57,379.

The last time Oklahoma teachers got a pay raise to their salary schedule was in 2008. The salary schedule establishes the minimum a district may pay a teacher based on  years of experience and highest degree obtained.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren is pushing a separate plan to boost education funding that involves a penny sales tax; if enough signatures are collected, the proposal would go before voters in November.

That proposal could raise $615 million a year, with 69.5 percent of it going to K-12 education. Most of the money would be earmarked for a $5,000 pay raise for teachers. The remainder would go to higher education and career tech. Holt’s plan does not include any funding for higher education.

Oklahoma Watch talked to Holt about his proposal:

Q: There are a lot of moving parts in your proposal. Are you confident you can get all of these elements through the Legislature or a public vote?

Holt: Anything worth doing is hard, and giving teachers a pay raise is worth doing. The thing I have in my favor is the necessity to do this. We have to increase teacher pay if we want to be competitive with other states in hiring teachers.

With a $900 million budget shortfall, we won’t be able to immediately give teachers a pay raise, but we can get started. It’s going to take several years to do all of this, and that’s why I am asking for a $10,000 raise. A $5,000 raise is not enough, and teachers may need a $15,000 raise to be competitive with the salaries in other states by the time we do all of this.

There could be better plans out there, but this is the best plan I have.

Q: Did you speak with the governor, the Education Department or House and Senate leadership before unveiling your plan?

Holt: No.

I didn’t need to talk to education folks because there is no education policy in here. This needed expertise in politics, which I have.

I didn’t think it was imperative to work with a bunch of people because this is a complicated plan. I didn’t want people saying it couldn’t be done or saying we should wait to do this later. Instead, I wanted to unveil a plan now and see if anyone else can come up with something better.

Leadership is not waiting to have a consensus. Good leadership is coming up with a bold plan and then seeing if you can come to a consensus.

Q: Can the Legislature withstand the lobbying against reforming tax breaks, or a potential push from the public against school consolidation?

Holt: We are talking about a $2 billion pot for tax breaks. I am asking for $200 million, or 10 percent. If businesses know that’s going toward teacher raises, I hope they will support it. I hope they agree this is a good cause to invest in.

Sure, they could try to block this before we can vote on it, but I am trying to break this up into multiple battles that are easier to win instead of one big fight.

With school district consolidation, we are redrawing district boundaries and reducing the number of administrative positions. We are not closing school buildings.

A community’s identity is not tied up in its superintendent – it’s tied to the school.

My school consolidation plan mirrors the national effort to reduce the number of military bases. Everyone agreed that needed to be done, but few people had the courage to make a plan to do it.

Q: Do you expect any competing bills to be filed?

Holt: I don’t know, but I sure hope so. I don’t think competition is a bad thing, and I am not saying I have a monopoly on good ideas.

If someone has a better idea to give teachers a pay raise, lets see it. If there isn’t a better idea, let’s use mine.

Q: How did you come up with this idea, and how long have you worked on it?

Holt: I spent several months during the last part of 2015 working on this.

It came to me the same way anyone gets an idea. Something would come to me in the shower or while I was driving, and later I would flesh it out. Eventually, I had six pieces that would come together to give teachers a pay raise over several years.

I also asked for ideas on Twitter. Unfortunately, a lot of people gravitated toward the easy answer, which is raising taxes. That’s not going to work in Oklahoma.

But several other people said we need to reform our state’s tax breaks, and I listened to them.

  • Dax

    When is it going to be clear that OKLAHOMA EDUCATION IS FUNDED BY PER PUPIL EXPENDITURE?!! The savings you would save by consolidation are minimal, because you won’t be increasing per pupil expenditure enough to give a $1,000.00 dollar raise to every teacher. If you want to look at consolidation, look at districts that aren’t producing from a productive standpoint, fiscally and educationally. You close bad schools, your chances of wasteful spending are high because you’re not getting the product you need for the money. Those students filter into higher performing schools and good teachers get jobs at higher performing schools. Bad ones don’t. On the flip-side, you shut down schools that are small or rural, but they are producing great student results and are fiscally aligned, you have good teachers and good students filtering into what is probably a lower performing school with lower performing co-workers. BUT,THOSE TEACHERS WON’T HAVE JOBS BECAUSE THOSE SCHOOLS WILL TAKE THE STUDENTS BUT CAN’T AFFORD TO HIRE THE TEACHERS BECAUSE THE EXTRA MONEY WILL GO TO GET BACK TO PRE 2009 LEVELS OF FUNDING FOR SUSTAINABILITY. So the end result is some of your best teachers are without teaching jobs. Why has this not been thought through?? I don’t hire a plumber to come fix my toilet and then tell him how to do it when he gets there. Listen to the people in education that know how that industry works. Most have higher requirements to do their job than it takes to be a politician.

    • Anthony

      I think that consolidation is needed. When you look at the costs associated with these small schools in the administrative realm, they are huge. You have a school of less then 500 students and you are spending ballpark $200,000 in superindentent costs and associated costs to maintain that office. There are huge savings to be had by centralizing that piece.
      Now I think that we must look also on what Oklahoma spends per pupil. We rank in the bottom on expenditures and outcomes. A logical person should be able to deduce we are getting what we pay for.
      We will spend over $30,000 a year to house an inmate but less then $6,500 a year to educate a child. We should be ashamed.

      • Rafe Hall

        Anthony, I understand your point. But these “small schools” educate children with the same amount of money per student. And, they consistently do better with test scores. I say we look into how successful schools are doing it and see what works. I don’t want politicians from metropolitan areas assuming their large school districts are doing it better when they dominate the “Needs Improvement List” created by No Child Left Behind. Remember, they fail those kids with the same amount of money per student as other schools.

  • Dan

    This is exactly what the GOP dominated legislature and executive office (Governor)wants…consolidation, vouchers, and eventually the demise of the public schools…the loss of local control…teacher pay raises are important but equally as important is the adequate funding of the every day operations of our schools..we were in this slide well before oil prices tanked..

  • Rafe Hall

    School consolidation is a political farce. Saving money by packing children into large schools is what they are already do in Senator Holt’s district. His large inner city schools consistently score the worst on A-F with no evidence they save money. School budgets are 85% teacher salary. The other 15% is where schools have absorbed cuts every time the State mismanages the citizens’ money. There just isn’t much room to save/cut more money in that small 15%. Smaller, rural schools educate children with the same amount of money per student and they consistently score better. They certainly don’t dominate the “needs improvement list” like large inner city schools. How about looking into how these small schools do more with the same amount of money per student?

  • Tony Barros

    I have a practical question? Will school districts have to cut benefits like “group health insurance” or other benefits to pay teachers the projected salary increase. I am pleased that there are those who want to pay our teachers a higher salary but there always seems to be a back door where districts have to balance their budgets.
    Last time I checked the $3,000 dollars given in pay raise might cost the individual teachers, 1,000 -2,500 dollars if they have to pay for their own health insurance. (this would come out of their own pockets).
    I was in public education for 15 years and don’t presume how districts work but there will always be some sort of balance.