Some Tulsa-area Republicans said on Friday they would support pay raises for Oklahoma teachers in 2023.
Speaking at an annual legislative forum hosted by Jenks Public Schools, state Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, told a packed conference room that he believes the idea will come up in the new session that will begin Feb. 6, and if it does, Rader said he would support it.
“You never know what the Legislature will do, but I think the market shows that it’s probably time for an adjustment,” said Rader, who was just named to the State Senate Education Committee for the first time. “Now, what that adjustment is, I don’t know, and I don’t know if there’s enough appetite with the Legislature to do that.”
The state’s public school teachers last received an increase in 2019 — $1,220 on average — after a $6,100 hike in 2018 after teachers from across the state staged a walkout at the Capitol.
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But a freshman lawmaker representing Jenks and a large swath of south Tulsa said a lot has changed in the job market since then.
“It’s a competitive market. I’m an employer. If we think we’re going to get the best teachers and not be competitive with wages, I think we’re kidding ourselves,” said Rep. Mark Tedford, a Republican who ran unopposed this year for the District 69 seat, which encompasses Jenks and part of south Tulsa, previously held for two terms by Sheila Dills.
Rep. Lonnie Sims, R-Jenks, said along the border with Texas, where Oklahoma teachers are routinely recruited to commute for higher pay across state lines, “I think there are areas that probably ought to be more than that (standard pay raise) just to protect their workforces.”
Mike Horn, a Jenks teacher who is president of the local bargaining unit, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear the idea raised and support for it.
“When you can go to QuikTrip and be able to make $60,000 as a manager and starting pay at Jenks for a teacher is around $40,000, that’s a hard sell,” Horn said. “We are losing quite a few teachers (to retirement) and teachers just leaving the profession. They have to be able to support themselves and their families with the inflation we’re seeing.
“The other battle is having a salary or wage for our teachers that is going to make students going into our universities wanting to be teachers when they come out.”
Tedford added that he would also like to see a strong push for Oklahoma schools to rank better on national measures of academic outcomes for students.
“If those tests are how we’re being evaluated, we need to take them seriously and we need to get the best scores on them,” he said.
The state’s minimum starting pay for a public school teacher is currently $36,601.
According to the State Department of Education, Oklahoma currently ranks fourth in the region for teacher pay with its average annual compensation of $54,096, trailing New Mexico at $54,256, Texas at $57,090 and Colorado at $57,706.
That calculation of compensation is more than teachers ever see in their paychecks because it includes the taxpayer costs of Oklahoma’s state-mandated benefits for teachers.
In September, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved outgoing State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s nearly $3.6 billion budget request that would provide a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay hike for 2023-24.
The total estimated cost of $310 million would cover the one-year cost of salary and benefits hikes for Oklahoma’s 52,850 current certified teachers.
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