Oklahoma Leaders Reach Deal on Education Funding Plan, Including Teacher Pay Raises

KOKH - May 17, 2023 12:48 pm

State leaders have reached a deal on an education funding plan that includes the largest investment in teacher pay raises, rural schools, and funding for all Oklahoma kids in state history.

Once signed into law, state leaders say the investment will increase teacher pay, put more money into the classroom, fund school safety measures, and more.

According to Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, “Even though we did have different… ideas in the beginning, we did collaborate and come together as colleagues and as friends with one goal in mind. And that goal was to help children.”

The plan was hashed out over the course of the 2023 legislative session and includes:

  • $625 million recurring total investment into public education.
  • $500 million directly into the education funding formula. This funding includes six weeks paid maternity leave.
  • Teacher pay raises of: $3,000 for teachers with 0 to 4 years of experience, $4,000 for teachers with 5 to 9 years of experience, $5,000 for teachers with 10 to 15 years of experience, and $6,000 for teachers with 15 or more years of experience.
  • An additional $10 million into a three-year literacy program to employ a literacy instructional team to support school districts.
  • $125 million to the Redbud Fund that largely benefits rural schools that don’t have the same ad valorem tax collection as others.
  • An additional $150 million into a three-year pilot program for school safety and security. This will provide every district with a school resource officer, or security upgrades depending on needs. For each year of the program, each public school district in the state will receive approximately $96,000.
  • 6 weeks of paid maternity leave

In total, lawmakers have gotten behind approximately $935 million for education during the 2023 legislative session. In addition to the $625 million outlined on Monday, both the Oklahoma House and Senate approved $150 million for tax credits for private school tuition and homeschool funding for families in the state.

According to House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, the captured tax credit bill will head to the governor’s desk once lawmakers pass the funding legislation unveiled on Monday.

During a press conference announcing the package on Monday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) shared that, “We all want to have the best top ten education system in the entire country. And that’s what you’re seeing today. You’re seeing historic investments in education.”

In his view, the move will attract more business and residents to the state.

“Oklahoma’s the place to be. Oklahoma’s open for business. We know that this is going to be attractive to other, other people from around the country to move to Oklahoma. We’re already top ten in migration,” he added.

However, Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, argued that the plan fails to bring funding to where it needs to be. He asserted that the state is still behind after reductions to education funding from 2015, and that, “We need to give teachers a $10,000 pay raise to be competitive with Texas, to be competitive with Arkansas. And right now this budget, this particular education plan that we’re looking at today, it’s just not going to get the job done.”

State Superintendent Ryan Walters reacted to the announcement.

“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in Oklahoma’s education system. With the help of Governor Stitt, Speaker McCall, and Pro Tem Treat, the legislature and governor’s office have agreed to pass the most significant education reform in our state’s history,” Walters said. “I would like to thank the Governor, and House and Senate leadership, for their rigorous efforts in reaching this agreement. Everyone has shown that we are all committed to doing what is best for children and parents in Oklahoma.”

The Senate Democratic Leader, Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, issued the following statement:

 Tying education funding to an unpopular voucher scheme is not the solution Oklahoma families are looking for. Our kids need individualized attention from their teachers, guaranteed breakfast and lunch, and support when they are going through hard times. This proposal does not meet those needs.

Jennifer Carter, the Senior Advisor for American Federation for Children-Oklahoma, issued this statement:

At the end of the day, this is all about helping more students achieve their full potential by increasing choices for parents. This development is truly transformative for Oklahoma’s education landscape. Broad-based school choice produces better academic outcomes as more children have access to the environment that best suits their unique needs, whether that’s in a public school, private school, or homeschool. Our lawmakers should be proud of what they have accomplished. The work done this session increases opportunity for many, many students and will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, echoed Floyd, calling the voucher program a scheme:

It is important to remember that we are talking about $600 million over three years that will not serve 95% of Oklahoma students. This voucher scheme is a tax shelter for individuals who can already afford private school tuition. We know the Tax Commission is not equipped to manage this program and that Oklahoma tax dollars will be misused and abused with no repercussions.

Sen. Jo Anna Dossett, D-Tulsa, says leadership is holding public school funding hostage with the new plan:

This proposal continues the supermajority’s false narrative that increased funding for public school students must be linked to a voucher scheme. Oklahoma families, even those that attend private schools, are not asking for this arrangement. Linking the two together makes it clear that vouchers do not have the support they need on their own, so leadership is holding public school funding hostage to get them over the line.

The CEO of the Opportunity Scholarship Fund (OSF), Sarah Guardiola, said the organization is thrilled by this new plan:

The Opportunity Scholarship Fund is thrilled for Oklahoma to emerge as a leader and advocate for school choice. Oklahoma families, regardless of their economic background, have the right to make decisions about what constitutes a good learning environment and where their children will be most successful.

Thanks to the efforts of the governor and state legislators, families in our state will have more control over their education, and educators will receive more of the support they need. OSF will continue to assist lower-income families as they explore new school options and take advantage of the tax credits now being offered in addition to the scholarships we facilitate, further bridging the financial gap for private PreK-12 education.

Ginger Tinney, executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators, shared the following statement:

Professional Oklahoma Educators would like to commend our state legislators on working together to create a historically significant education plan. Thank you also to our POE members for their continued involvement and engagement in the process. We are encouraged to see the $625 million dollar investment in our state’s education system. By approving a pay raise for all certified staff, we are happy to see the state’s commitment to keeping our teachers in Oklahoma. It is our expectation that support staff will receive a pay raise as well. POE also appreciates the plan’s included increase in school security and paid maternity leave. Again, we want to thank the Legislature and the Governor for making education a top priority in Oklahoma. Today and in years to come, POE will continue to work with legislators on behalf of our members.

Katherine Bishop, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, shared the following:

We appreciate lawmakers for listening to the concerns of educators and parents by investing $625 million into public education, including a $3,000 to $6,000 raise for certified educators, and six weeks of maternity leave. To keep and attract our best educators, it is imperative we not only compensate them as professionals, but also treat them with dignity and respect.

That same principle applies to the education support professionals who are the glue of our schools. We encourage and expect local school districts to reward them with a much needed and well-deserved pay raise from the substantial funding allocated to local school districts. Oklahoma education support professionals are currently 50th in the country in pay, which is unacceptable.

When we invest in the 90% of families who choose public schools and the professionals who serve them, we are investing in the future of Oklahoma.

We want to thank the OEA members who held dinners with legislators in their communities, advocated for their students and profession at the Capitol, sent emails, made phone calls, and did whatever it took to work with legislators to produce a result that will improve the future for Oklahoma children.

This current education plan is a great step towards making public education a core value of Oklahoma and lifting us out of the bottom of the region in per-student funding. We look forward to a continuing, long-term commitment to public education values to be competitive in the region and give every Oklahoma child the best chance at success.

 

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