State Ed Board recommends $5,000 teacher raises to Legislature

·3 min read

Sep. 23—The Oklahoma State Board of Education unanimously approved a request to the state Legislature for $5,000 raises for public school teachers.

If approved, the raises would be rolled into $310 million of a $3.57 billion budget request for Fiscal Year 2024, which will begin July 1.

"This process is the first step in [the approval] process," Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said, adding that the approval Thursday will be followed by meetings with members of the Legislature, and the governor's office could weigh in on the request.

She also said budget estimates for the requested raises will be more accurate the closer they get to the 2023 Legislative session.

Despite Hofmeister pushing for raises in her campaign for governor, there were virtually no political remarks from her or other board members leading up to the vote.

The push for the raises comes as the Oklahoma State School Boards Association reported a record 1,019 teaching vacancies. The association also said nearly 70% of district administrators in the state said the hiring market is worse than a year ago.

According to National Education Association estimates, Oklahoma ranks fourth out of its seven-state region for average teacher pay. It has an average teacher salary of $54,096.

If the request is approved by the Legislature, the raise bumps the minimum starting base pay for Oklahoma teachers to $41,601, according to department records. Teachers with doctorate degrees will start at $44,381, said Carolyn Thompson, education department deputy chief of staff.

While school districts may add to salaries, about half of all Oklahoma teachers start teaching at the state's base salary, Hofmeister estimated.

Thompson correlated teacher pay with retention, noting an increase of more than 1,000 teachers statewide after the state approved a $6,100 raise to the base salary. The raise followed a statewide teacher strike and protests at the state capitol over classroom pay, resources and teaching conditions. The increase in teachers followed a dip of more than 1,000 from 2015-2016 to 2016-2017, records show.

A $1,220 raise was approved by the state for Fiscal Year 2020, records show.

Thompson said a teacher decrease over the last two years is related to COVID-19 and retirement. Retirement, she said, was tied to how benefits related to the $6,100 pay raise were set up.

While board members were united in support for the raise Monday, the future of the request in the Legislature is uncertain.

Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, expressed uncertainty earlier this week over whether a $5,000 raise for every teacher is fiscally possible in Oklahoma.

But Pemberton, a retired educator who chairs an education budget subcommittee, said pay deters people from becoming teachers.

"If we're going to be serious about education and trying to make sure that we show people that we appreciate them and that teachers are appreciated, we need to find a way to compensate them to the point where they feel good about themselves and the jobs that they do in the classroom," he said Monday.

Hofmeister, a Democrat running against Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for his seat, said Monday she would make achieving the raise a central part of her campaign, StateImpact Oklahoma reported.

A spokesperson for Stitt did not immediately return request for comment Thursday afternoon about the board's decision or Hofmeister's campaign push for the raise.