Concerns about teacher pay prompt deja vu
For years, it’s been said that Oklahoma teachers are fleeing to Texas for higher salaries and better working conditions. Recent comments by the president of a teachers’ association undermines the narrative of Texas as an educators’ Nirvana and shows the problems noted in Oklahoma are widespread.
In a recent column, Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, complained that Texas teachers “are paid $7,300 a year less than the national average” and called a $5,000 raise that has been proposed this year only “a start in the right direction.”
“Virtually all of Texas’ 350,000 schoolteachers are underpaid, and thousands of effective teachers are leaving the classroom every year for more financially rewarding professions,” Candelaria wrote. Sound familiar?
Candelaria also argued the "modest salaries" of Texas teachers are “further eroded by rising health insurance premiums, now averaging $359 a month …” In Oklahoma, the state pays 100 percent of the cost of a teacher’s health insurance policy, a benefit that is often overlooked.
Candelaria continued that Texas teachers spend an average of $738 per year “on classroom supplies for which they are not reimbursed.” He also claimed, “Anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of Texas teachers have quit or will quit the profession by the time they finish their fifth year in the classroom.”
Texas isn’t the only instance where a nearby state is experiencing union unrest amidst familiar complaints, and the outcomes of that unrest echo those of Oklahoma. In Denver, teachers recently went on strike over how base pay was calculated. The president of the Denver Classroom Teachers warned there was a “teacher turnover crisis in Denver.”
What were the results of the strike? Chalkbeat Colorado reports, “Teachers were getting a raise no matter what.” Before the strike, Denver teachers were offered an average 10 percent raise. Afterward, the size of the raise was increased — to an average 11.7 percent.
Families whose children’s lives were disrupted by the strike may question if the cost to and impact on those not working for schools exceeded the gains reaped by education employees who went on strike. The same thing is true in Oklahoma, where last year’s walkout occurred after a $6,100, across-the-board teacher pay raise was approved, and no substantive changes were enacted in response to the strike.
It’s notable that last year’s teacher pay raise, perhaps the biggest in Oklahoma history, reportedly did nothing to reduce the state's teacher shortage. This year, once again against a backdrop of threatened union unrest, lawmakers are poised to raise teacher pay some more.
Perhaps the outcome will be different this time. But events in Texas and Colorado suggest that, no matter what Oklahoma policymakers do this year, the education narrative next year may remain much the same.