Candidates differ on teacher pay in first year
Republican Kevin Stitt wants a teacher pay increase included in next year's state education budget, while Democrat Drew Edmondson is willing to hold off for at least a year on another salary increase for educators, the gubernatorial candidates said Wednesday.
In its proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget, the state Board of Education included $440 million in new annual spending for the school funding formula, school counselors, alternative education programs and other support services.
The department's proposed budget does not include an increase in teacher pay.
"I am disappointed the funding request did not include another additional increase in teacher salaries as I have asked for in my education plan," Stitt said in an emailed response to questions about the budget.
Edmondson said he would seek a pay increase as governor, but didn't believe it had to be a priority in his first year since the Legislature approved an average teacher pay increase earlier this year.
“What the teachers were very clear about at the Capitol (during the April walkout) was this was not just about pay, and I think the teachers would be the first to say, 'Now let's fix some of the other problems in education,'” Edmondson said at a campaign stop in Norman.
Oklahoma's per-student funding level of $9,219 last year was the fourth-lowest out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
This year's teacher pay increase to a first-year minimum of $39,001 gave Oklahoma the second-highest average pay in the region, behind Texas.
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Stitt has set a goal of making Oklahoma the highest paying for teachers out in the six-state region.
While he hasn't set a specific number, Stitt has promised to seek an education funding increase next year through a growth in the state's tax base and more efficient spending, but not through tax hikes.
"We are going to continue investing in public education, and I will work with our elected (state schools) superintendent to ensure money is getting into the classroom and is directly addressing our teacher shortage," Stitt said.
Edmondson has said he would seek increased taxes on oil and gas production, cigarettes and an elimination of the capital gains tax deduction to raise more money for state services, including at least $300 in new spending for education.
"Class size is one of the most urgent needs we have to address, and that takes more money in the education budget," Edmondson said.