Teacher pay hike subject of bills

Oklahoma lawmakers passed legislation to serve as a potential vehicle for a pay raise for public school teachers across the state.

“The public expects a meaningful compensation increase for teachers in Oklahoma schools to be signed into law before the 2016 legislative session ends,” said Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, the principal author of the legislation. The measure, House Bill 3129, passed a vote of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

House Bill 3129 represents the intent of lawmakers to come to a consensus on funding mechanisms for a teacher pay raise, Cockroft said. Funding options considered since the start of the legislative session include tax credit reform, tax exemption reform, spending reforms and other efforts to better allocate existing resources.

“We as legislators need to do what is necessary to keep parents from feeling, when they go to vote this November, they have to increase their own sales taxes to the highest in the United States. just to keep good teachers in the classroom.”

On Feb. 16, a coalition led by University of Oklahoma Pres. David Boren announced it had begun gathering signatures to place on the ballot a proposal to increase Oklahoma’s combined state-and-local sales tax burden to 9.7 percent, which would be the highest in the United States, in part to fund teacher pay raises.

Lawmakers said many potential funding mechanisms are being considered as alternatives for providing recurring financing for a teacher salary increase.

“Everything is on the table, and we’re working to determine what a majority of our colleagues will support to fund a pay raise for our teachers statewide,” said Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, who supported the bill in committee.

“We’re weighing what are and are not core services, and what is worth scaling back in order to honor the hard work of the teachers in our classrooms and avoid any perceived need for a tax increase.”

Committee members said a salary increase would help retain quality educators. A teacher pay increase has been one of the priorities expressed most often by constituents in all corners of the state, according to legislators.

“While our school administrators have the ability to increase teacher salaries, and many have, it’s past time for us as lawmakers to take action to benefit all teachers in our state,” said Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, who also supported the measure.

“The effort involved for us to hammer out how to fund a teacher pay raise is nothing compared to the effort our quality teachers give for students and families across our state every day. It’s our job to figure this out, and to do it now.”