Oklahoma governor, Senate near deal on teacher pay raise
By SEAN MURPHY Associated Press
May 09, 2019 03:03 PM
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt answers a question during a news conference, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Oklahoma City.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Senate Republicans reached a tentative agreement Thursday on a plan to give Oklahoma teachers another $1,200 pay raise next year, resolving a major stumbling block on a budget agreement.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said he is presenting the governor a plan for $200 million in new spending on public education, including $70 million for the across-the-board pay raise for teachers.
“We think we have a viable way of getting the teacher pay raise that the House and governor have been advocating for and a substantial amount into the classroom as well,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Lawmakers have about $600 million in increased revenue to appropriate this year, but the House, Senate and governor have yet to reach a deal on how that should be spent.
Senate Republicans initially resisted another across-the-board pay raise, arguing it would be better to put the money in the school funding formula instead and give individual districts the option of how to spend it.
After months of wrangling, lawmakers last year approved a package of tax hikes to help fund an average pay hike for teachers of $6,100 annually. It was the first raise for Oklahoma teachers in a decade, but despite its passage, teachers across the state walked off the job last year anyway to protest what they said was a failure of the Legislature to prioritize public education.
Stitt also is pushing to put about $200 million, or more than one-third of the growth revenue, into savings.
“We’re very fortunate to have a revenue increase this year, and if you look back in history, the Legislature will spend every single dime that’s available,” Stitt said. “It’s my four-year goal to have $2 billion in savings.”
The state’s Rainy Day Fund, or constitutional reserve, currently has a balance of $541 million and is expected to grow to more than $800 million by the end of the fiscal year.
The Legislature must adjourn by the end of May.