Among the deluge of bills filed by state legislators in advance of the upcoming session are more than two dozen proposals to boost teacher pay.
Teachers, disappointed by the defeat of State Question 779, which would have generated about $550 million a year for education through a 1 percent sales tax, say they’re counting on legislators to do more than just talk.
“It is imperative to pass a pay raise bill for education employees,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. “Our students deserve qualified teachers in the classroom. A pay increase will help keep teachers in Oklahoma and in education.”
Priest added that OEA will not support measures that take away benefits or require teachers to work more days.
A number of the bills filed simply increase the minimum salaries set by the state, without identifying a revenue source, or are shell bills with language to be filled in later. Lawmakers are grappling with an $870 million budget hole and a mountain of funding requests from agencies.
Here are several teacher pay proposals to watch:
>House Bill 1114, by Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, would phase in a $6,000 pay raise over three years, growing from $1,000 in the 2017-18 school year to an additional $2,000 in 2018-19 and $3,000 in 2019-20. The proposal is one to watch because it received a nod from House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, who, according to a Jan. 10 news release from Rogers, said the plan is reasonable.
“Our goal is to provide our teachers a pay increase without raising taxes on already overtaxed Oklahomans,” McCall said in the release. “Any pay raise plan is going to face challenges when revenues are down, but I believe House Republicans have the political will to get this done in 2017, and I think we can find efficiencies in government spending to pay for it.”
>Senate Bill 316, by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, would phase in a $10,000 salary increase for classroom teachers, starting with a $1,000 boost in 2017-18. To pay for it, he’s introduced a dozen separate revenue-raising measures that include eliminating sales tax on services, axing wind energy credits, uncapping lottery prize amounts and reducing the number of school superintendents.
>HB 1245, by Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, would use funds from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund to pay for school counselors, nurses, science programs, special education services and other programs that promote healthy children. By tapping 50 percent of the fund’s moving 10-year average earnings, McBride estimates sending $15 million to $25 million a year to schools, freeing up school budgets to spend on teacher salaries.
TSET is a public trust created to manage money from settlements against tobacco companies; the endowment contains more than $1 billion, but only the investment earnings are available for spending.
TSET Executive Director John Woods said, “A proposal to divert half of all earnings would have a serious impact on grants and programs TSET funds that save lives and save money, including research at Stephenson Cancer Center, supporting rural physicians and the training of additional physicians to serve in rural areas, as well as the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, which has served nearly 300,000 Oklahomans since it began.”
HB 1347, by Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, seeks to increase the tax on gasoline, with the revenue reserved for public school teacher pay. His bill would add 10 cents per gallon if the statewide average price of gasoline is under $2.25 a gallon, 5 cents per gallon if the average price of gasoline is between $2.25 and $2.50, and 3 cents per gallon if the price is $2.50 to $3. Oklahoma’s gas tax rate hasn’t been increased in 30 years, and the idea of raising fuel taxes is gaining traction. Any tax increase, however, will require a legislative supermajority.
HB 1497, by Rep. Greg Babinec, R-Cushing, and HB 1793, by Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, would exempt teachers from paying income tax beginning in 2018. Babinec’s proposal caps the tax-free income at $55,000 for single filers and $110,000 for joint filers.
Several shell bills introduced by Speaker McCall have names with sweeping titles, including the Oklahoma Education Act of 2017 (HB 2008), the Oklahoma Education Reform Act of 2017 (HB 2009) and the Oklahoma Teacher Pay and Incentives Act of 2017 (HB 2010). But it’s unclear whether they’re unassigned placeholders or reserved seats awaiting proposals in the works.