Teachers' union seeks bulk of new revenue for schools
Oklahoma's largest teachers union is seeking $400 million in new annual spending for educator salaries and classroom funding, believing the state will have plenty of additional money next year to meet the request.
"Oklahoma is on sound financial ground and our plan is certainly feasible," said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, which helped lead a two-week teacher walkout in April.
On Wednesday, the Board of Equalization certified an estimated $612 million in new funding for the upcoming budget year.
Hours later, the Oklahoma Education Association said it wanted most of the new funding for a $3,000 teacher pay raise, a $2,500 support professional pay raise, an 8 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retired teachers, and $150 million in new classroom funding.
While Priest said the Legislature would have a budget surplus large enough to fund the union's requests, there will be several state agencies clamoring for a piece of the funding pie, including other education interests.
"We've got to make sure that we not only fund education appropriately but also .... career techs and higher education," said Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt, who has vowed to make teacher salaries the highest in the six-state region, which would require an additional $52 million in annual spending.
The state Department of Education has requested an additional $440 million that doesn't include a pay raise.
Prior to April's walkout, the state Legislature gave teachers a $6,100 pay raise.
- Related to this story
- Video: OEA provides agenda update
Another $50 million in additional school funding was also approved by lawmakers this year, but more is needed, according to the Oklahoma Education Association, which has about 20,000 members.
"It is important for us to remind our elected officials of the promises they made and the needs of students and teachers moving forward," said Shari Gateley, an OEA member and English teacher at Putnam City West High School.
Legislative leaders have said an increase in education funding is likely next year, but specific amounts have not been offered.
When asked if teachers would hold another walkout if lawmakers failed to meet the union's request, Priest said teachers "are aggressively working with our legislators to make sure that doesn't happen."
To fund this year's teacher pay raise, the Legislature passed a series of tax increases on cigarettes, motor fuel and oil and gas production.
The Oklahoma Education Association's funding request does not include a proposal for how to pay for it.
"It's the Legislature's responsibility to make sure the revenue is there, so we will leave that up to the legislators," Priest said.