OKLAHOMA CITY — House Republicans on Thursday unveiled an education plan that includes teacher pay raises, more per-pupil funding for districts, and school-choice tax credits.
The proposal earmarks an additional $500 million for public education while also creating refundable tax credits for parents who opt to home school their children or send them to private school.
The tax credits, which could cost the state up to $300 million annually, are House Republicans’ alternative to the controversial school-voucher proposals introduced in the Senate.
“Good education policy should work everywhere in the state of Oklahoma,” House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said in a news conference. “We believe that this plan benefits every student, parent and teacher.”
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Gov. Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Ryan Walters expressed optimism about the plan.
After campaigning heavily on expanding school-choice options, Walters said the proposal is a step in the right direction.
“This does a tremendous job of giving that comprehensive school choice to every family in the state of Oklahoma,” he said.
The plan would set aside $150 million to provide across-the-board teacher pay raises of $2,500 to educators in the classroom in the 2023-24 school year.
Now, Republicans in both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature have proposed across-the-board teacher pay raises, bucking calls from Stitt and Walters for merit-based teacher pay raises.
GOP Sen. Adam Pugh, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, wants to give all teachers a pay bump of $3,000 to $6,000 based on their years of experience. Pugh’s proposed pay raises would be tied to the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers, but the pay raises included in McCall’s House Bill 2775 would not.
Under House Republicans’ plan, another $300 million would be distributed on a per-pupil basis determined by a school’s average daily membership of students. Every district would receive additional funding, but no district would receive more than $2 million.
When HB 2775 was heard in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee mere hours after the education plan was announced, Democrats expressed concern that the funding cap would disproportionately affect large school districts.
Committee Chairman Kevin Wallace said only 24 districts would hit the cap.
Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, praised the proposed teacher pay raises but suggested that lawmakers go back to the drawing board on how to divide up the $300 million in new per-pupil funding.
“This is a stellar moment to have to be able to fund our schools,” she said. “The buckets of money are truly an opportunity to do something special. It’s a powerful move, I just want to make sure it’s equitable.”
The proposal also would set aside an additional $50 million to be distributed according to the Redbud School Funding Act, which gives grants to brick-and-mortar districts that receive below-average local tax dollars for construction and maintenance of school facilities.
McCall’s House Bill 1935 would create the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Program. Parents would be eligible to receive a tax credit of $5,000 a year for each child enrolled in a private school. Parents of home-schooled students would be eligible for a tax credit of up to $2,500 per child each year.
The key distinction between the tax credits and school vouchers is that the former would not draw money away from public education, said McCall, who has been critical of voucher proposals.
“With a tax credit, with this method, you’re not harming the appropriated money for education,” he said. “You’re not drawing from those appropriations.”
McCall said that if the parents of the more than 60,000 students who are home schooled or attend private school request the tax credits, the cost to the state would be about $300 million annually. Some families won’t file for the credit, he said.
Parents would be required to provide proof of private school enrollment or other education expenses in order to be eligible, McCall said.
“The state’s not passing out checks,” he said.
McCall said there would be an option to fast-track the credit for families who could not afford to front the costs of private school tuition. Upon proof of enrollment in a private school, families could request from the Oklahoma Tax Commission an advance on the tax credit, up to $2,500 per semester, within 60 days of filing the requisite paperwork.
The tax credits would be tied to the new base level of common education funding. If the Oklahoma Legislature cuts public education funding in the future, the tax credits will be suspended, McCall said.
The legislation stipulates that if any part of the legislation were overturned in court, all provisions of the bill would be nullified. The poison-pill provision appears designed to try to prevent any legal challenges.
HB 2775 and HB 1935 passed out of committee and now move to the House floor.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said his members are still reviewing the education plan.