While responding to questions about education funding during a meeting with reporters last week, Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus said, “I am fully confident that we will leave this session with a framework of a teacher pay raise in place. And it will be a stepped-in pay raise as we go through the next couple of years. If we identify some funding sources this year, it could start as early as this year.”
Schulz immediately walked this statement back a few steps when he added, “But again, we have got a pretty big budget hole to fill before we start spending additional dollars.”
For some of you who have limited fluency with the more subtle tones and nuances of professional politicalese, I’m here to help.
Permit me to run the Senator’s words through my handy-dandy Politician-to-English translator to learn what he was really communicating:
My translation may not be perfect, yet I suspect it is fairly close to the truth.
First of all, let’s address the notion of putting a “framework for teacher pay raises in place.” To save the legislature some time and as a public service, I am willing to share my original framework free of charge.
Here it is: Rob’s Super-Duper Simple, Two-Step Framework for Teacher Pay Raises:
- Gather up some more money.
- Give it to teachers.
Seriously, how complicated can we make this? Regardless of which current teacher pay raise plan is being debated at the Capitol, they all follow this same basic framework, right?
The challenge with every pay raise plan that’s still alive in the legislature this year is step one – finding the money.
Senator Schulz is right when he says that we have a pretty big budget hole, more accurately – a nearly 900 million dollar cavern – to fill before we even think about gathering up more money for new initiatives like a permanent teacher raise.
What seems to be good news is, unlike other years, there does seem to be a genuine interest from many lawmakers to actually do something to address this critical issue (step two).
All snark aside, I do appreciate what Senator Schulz and Speaker McCall are trying to do and believe their intent is sincere.
At the same time, both gentlemen have been in the legislature long enough to own a portion of this problem. You cannot vote repeatedly over the years for income tax cuts and in support of tax incentives for corporations, oil companies, and the wind industry and then complain about the lack of revenues today. Well, I suppose you can if you don’t mind being disingenuous.
As the saying goes, both of these lawmakers helped make this lumpy bed. They need to sleep in it.
When the citizens of Oklahoma voted down SQ 779 last November and denied teachers a guaranteed pay raise, many people justified their NO vote by saying this was a problem the legislature needed to fix. Many opposed the idea of a regressive sales tax due to its disparate impact on poor Oklahomans. People recognized how we got into this mess and were not excited about doing the legislature’s job for them.
In short, many Oklahomans supported the need for a teacher pay raise but wanted lawmakers to find a better way to pay for it.
But, instead of a better way, it now appears we are going to be given a framework for a better way. Instead of a real pay raise, educators will likely have to be satisfied for another year with the promise of a pay raise.
Honestly, our legislators are in a very tough spot. It would be more than a little confounding to have to cut common education funding and impose draconian cuts to other state agencies like DHS and health care next year while generating a new revenue source for teacher raises at the same time.
For a few educators, a “guaranteed” framework for a future pay raise might induce a brief burst of higher morale, a feeling that will quickly dissipate when they return to higher class sizes and fewer resources in August.
They will also quickly conclude a framework doesn’t buy them anything.
A framework for “stepped in pay raises” won’t help a young family purchase a badly needed new home or car this year.
It won’t help pay the electric bill, the cost of braces for a 12-year-old, a new washing machine, or set of tires to replace the bald ones currently on their 15-year-old car.
The framework won’t pay for increased day care expenses, cover higher medical deductibles, help pay off your student loans, buy your kid a new pair of shoes, or pay for a modest summer vacation.
Frameworks for future raises aren’t accepted by banks as collateral, won’t help improve your credit rating, and cannot be deposited into your savings account.
More than anything else, a framework for a teacher pay raise won’t help our state make up the teacher pay gap between Oklahoma and its neighboring states. It won’t help persuade a young teacher in Ardmore or Westville or Miami to stay home rather than move across the border to work in Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri.
When a new 22-year-old educator with a bachelor’s degree from Durant can move 87 miles south to Garland, Texas (near Dallas) and immediately make the same salary ($51,500) as an educator with a doctorate and 23 years of experience back home, we have a real problem.
The teacher pay crisis is a problem that needs real money to fix, not promissory notes … or well-meaning pledges … or so-called frameworks for future pay raises contingent on “identifying new funding sources.”
The time for frameworks was five years ago. The time for real action is now.