Budget deal includes teacher pay raise
Gov. Kevin Stitt and leaders of the Oklahoma House and Senate announced Wednesday a state budget deal that includes more than $200 million in new education funding and pay raises for teachers and state employees.
The $8.3 billion fiscal year 2020 budget is the largest in state history and includes about $500 million in new state spending.
The proposed budget appropriates $203 million in new education spending, including an average teacher pay raise of $1,220 for 97% of Oklahoma teachers. The budget compromise veers slightly from Stitt’s original budget proposal of an across-the-board teacher pay raise of $1,200.On average, Oklahoma teachers saw a $6,100 pay bump last year.
The teacher pay raise stems from Stitt’s campaign promise to boost Oklahoma teacher pay to the highest in the region.
It's unclear whether the bump will boost Oklahoma to top in the region as the most recent state-by-state teacher pay data is from 2018. If any of Oklahoma's neighboring states offers its teachers pay raises this year or next, Oklahoma could fall in the rankings.
“For the first time in state history, we’re going to end up being the No. 1 in teacher pay in our region,” Stitt said. “This is exciting news for me; it’s exciting news for all of my colleagues up here and also the great teachers in our state.”
Stitt, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall announced the budget deal in a news conference at the Capitol.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who also was in attendance, praised the budget for boosting education funding. She also thanked Stitt and lawmakers for listening to Oklahoma educators who walked out of their classrooms last year demanding more classroom funding.
“We know that education affects every Oklahoman, and we know that this budget reflects the desire and prioritization to be the top, to be on the leading edge,” she said.The $203 million in new education funding includes an additional $28 million for the state’s higher education institutions and $18 million in new appropriations for career and technical education.
The Senate was the holdout in budget discussions as its leaders pushed for more education funding. Senate leadership was pushing for $200 million in new common education funding and $264 million in new total education funding.
Nonetheless, Treat praised the budget agreement presented Tuesday as a win for education.
“Last year, when we made the investment in education we said it wasn’t a one and done,” he said. “We were committed for the long term. This budget represents that commitment.”
The proposed budget also includes pay raises for state employees.
Corrections officers will receive pay raises of up to $2 per hour, up from the current $13.74 per hour. Other state employees will receive pay raises of up to $1,400, at an annual cost of $37.7 million.
The final budget proposal also will divert $200 million into savings. Stitt has a goal to boost the state’s Rainy Day fund to $2 billion by the end of his first term. The cash infusion in the 2020 budget will put the fund at over $1 billion.
McCall said the budget considers all Oklahomans.
“In my seventh year of service in the House and to the state Legislature, this is the most comprehensive and strongest budget I’ve seen,” he said.
Democrats said the Republican-proposed budget plan falls short of restoring state agency funding to prerecession funding levels. House Minority Leader Emily Virgin pointed to the Department of Education that is still operating on reduced funding.
The proposed boost in common education funding in the budget is less than half of the $440 million in new funding the department requested this year.
“This is what a budget looks like when you decide taxpayer money is better suited to sit in a bank than be invested back into state resources like our children, state employees, and middle and low wage earners,” Virgin said in a statement.
More details about the proposed state budget will emerge in the coming days as comprehensive budget bills are introduced and voted on in committee. The budget will also have to pass the full House and Senate.
Other spending priorities in the budget plan include:
• $1 million to reduce the state’s backlog of untested rape kits.
• More than $33 million in new funding for criminal justice initiatives, including funding for mental health and diversion programs.
• $19 million for the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which is used to for economic development and to lure new businesses to the state.
• $62.8 million for a Graduate Medical Education Program to boost physician training for rural hospitals.
• $1.7 million for the creation of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, a priority for legislative leaders.
• $700,000 to hire additional state auditors.
• Full funding for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan.