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Budget talks to decide if teachers get pay raises

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Whether Oklahoma teachers receive pay raises next school year is likely to be dependent on how budget negotiations shake out at the state Legislature over the next several weeks.

A bill to give teachers a $1,200 pay bump did not advance before a Thursday legislative deadline.

A second bill that would grant teachers the same pay boost advanced, but with a catch.

The Senate this week did not hear House Bill 1780, which would have granted teachers a $1,200 pay raise.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat said the Senate chose not to advance the measure, but granting teacher pay raises is still a part of ongoing budget negotiations.

It’s not necessary for the Legislature to pass bills to correspond to budget appropriations.

If lawmakers approve appropriating $70 million for a $1,200 across-the-board pay raise — as called for in Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive budget — they can simply put the appropriation in the state budget, and don’t need to pass corresponding legislation.

Another bill to grant teachers a pay bump is still alive, but it’s been tied to a senate bill that would push more Oklahoma schools back to five-day weeks.

The move rankled House Democrats, who called the amended bill an unfunded mandate that punishes small school districts that found creative ways to weather years of state budget cuts.

Rep. Rhonda Baker, who introduced the amendment to add the teacher pay raise to Senate Bill 441, said tying longer school weeks to the teacher pay raise sends a clear message to the Senate that teacher pay raises are a priority. Baker, R-Yukon, chairs the House Common Education committee.

Treat said Thursday the Senate will likely reject the House amendment because he fears pairing the teacher pay raise with longer school weeks would violate a portion of the Oklahoma Constitution that requires legislation to stick to one main topic.

If the Senate rejects the amendment, a small group of House and Senate lawmakers will have to hash out a compromise in a conference committee.

The Senate passed SB 441 when the bill just called for extending school weeks. But the upper chamber has not been favorable to granting teacher pay raises this year, with its members preferring to direct additional funding into Oklahoma classrooms instead.

“State Senate Republicans have been very clear that we believe more money needs to go into the classroom and we’re committed to that end,” Treat said Thursday.

House Republicans and Stitt are lobbying primarily for a teacher pay bump with some additional classroom funding.

Budget negotiations between the governor's office and House and Senate leadership are said to be nearing completion.

The Legislature is required to adjourn by 5 p.m. on May 31.

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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