A $5,000 teacher pay raise proposal will advance to the state Legislature after passing a Thursday vote by the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
The raise is estimated to cost $310 million with the price of insurance and retirement benefits included. More than 42,500 teachers worked in Oklahoma public schools last year.
Should the Legislature agree to the increase, Oklahoma’s average teacher pay would rise to $59,000. A teacher’s minimum starting salary would, for the first time, exceed $40,000 in the state.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced earlier this week that she would include the raise in an annual budget request for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
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Better pay is “vital” for Oklahoma’s dwindling teacher workforce, Hofmeister said.
The state Board of Education has approved 3,593 emergency teaching certifications this year, including a record number issued in a single month this summer, indicating traditionally qualified teacher candidates are still hard to come by.
The number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs fell by 80% at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities, showing a dramatic decline in interest to enter the teaching profession, according to a 2020 report from the Center for Education Progress.
“I know that the Legislature wants to see high outcomes for students, and certainly the Legislature understands that we have to make a priority with children and their education,” Hofmeister said after Thursday’s board meeting. “That means ensuring we’ve got the people and that investment in the (teacher) workforce.”
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The state board approves the Education Department’s budget request every year. The request then goes to the Legislature where lawmakers during the 2023 session will make the final decision on each state agency’s allocation.
The state board requested a total budget of $3.57 billion for Fiscal Year 2024. That’s $390 million more than the state Education Department’s current $3.18 billion budget, the vast majority of which goes directly to public schools.
The request also includes a $66 million increase to the education funding formula, the chief source of public school funds. The funding boost would account for the rising cost to operate a school and provide extra funds to raise pay for support staff, whose wages wouldn’t increase from the teacher raise, Education Department officials said.
The teacher pay boost would be Oklahoma’s first in three years, if lawmakers approve it. In the wake of a statewide teacher walkout, the Legislature raised teacher salaries by $6,100 in 2018 and by $1,200 in 2019.
Oklahoma teachers earn an average of $54,000 – similar to the regional average of $53,600 but below the national average of $64,000, according to the state Department of Education.
Bordering states of Texas, Colorado and New Mexico pay more on average than Oklahoma while Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas pay less, the state agency reported.
New Mexico is expected to surge to No. 1 in the region this year. The state passed a $10,000 salary increase that is estimated to reset its average teacher pay at $64,000.
Requested raise could push Oklahoma teacher pay to No. 2 in region
Oklahoma could reach the second-highest average in the region with $59,000, should the Legislature approve the $5,000 raise.
“We have to keep pace with the surrounding states,” Hofmeister said. “Eventually, I would like to see us at the national average in teacher pay, as well.”
New legislation enacted this year offers matching funds to raise the salaries of certain teachers who earn specific credentials and mentor other educators. The measure, which the governor backed, would use excess lottery proceeds to pay for half of a teacher’s raise.
Govt. Kevin Stitt claimed it could cause some teachers to be paid $100,000 or more, although this would fall on the extreme end of the bill’s capacity.
Asked if Stitt would support a $5,000 teacher pay increase across the board, his spokesperson reflected on past initiatives.
“From his first year in office when he worked with the Legislature to deliver a $1,200 pay raise, to this year’s proposal to pay those in the classroom six figure salaries, Governor Stitt has been a tireless advocate for getting Oklahoma teachers to be the highest paid in the region and looks forward to continuing that effort with the next state superintendent,” Kate Vesper wrote in a statement to The Oklahoman.
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This budget request is Hofmeister’s last as state superintendent. She is term limited after eight years in office.
Hofmeister is the Democratic nominee for governor and the top challenger to Stitt, a Republican, in the Nov. 8 general election.
Stitt’s education secretary, Republican Ryan Walters, and the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, Democrat Jena Nelson, are running to succeed Hofmeister as the state’s top education official.
The Education Department’s budget request would remain the same no matter who wins in November, Hofmeister said, but the next superintendent could advocate for different policies.
When Hofmeister was first elected in 2014, she asked the Legislature to add a $5,000 teacher pay increase on top of the budget request from the previous superintendent’s administration.
“We figured the amount that (the $5,000 raise) would cost and made that ask in addition,” she said Thursday. “It took three years to get there, but we had to start with let’s put facts in front of our legislators, let’s talk about what it would actually cost to keep teachers. Over time they were able to work to accomplish that.”
Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.