OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt has unveiled an $800 million education plan he hopes will resolve a stalemate between House and Senate legislative leaders.
Stitt said his proposal, which includes across-the-board teacher pay raises and school choice tax credits, incorporates the best ideas from GOP lawmakers in both chambers.
“I’m trying to bring both teams together,” Stitt said in a Friday news conference. “I think it’s time that we get something across the finish line.”
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, have been locked in budget negotiations for weeks after the House and Senate GOP caucuses presented differing education plans this year.
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While McCall praised the governor’s plan, Treat indicated that Stitt’s proposal is unlikely to clinch a compromise between the two chambers.
$300 million in new funding that would go into the state’s school funding formula, which would cover across-the-board teacher pay raises ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 based on experience.
$300 million in new per-pupil funding that would be capped at no more than $2 million per district.
$200 million for refundable school choice tax credits of up to $5,000 per student attending private school and $1,000 per home-schooled student.
House and Senate leaders said they are reviewing the governor’s proposal.
“At first glance, it is undeniably similar to the House plan that the Senate, as well as other education groups, had issues with,” Treat said in a statement.
Senate Republicans and legislative Democrats have criticized the House’s proposed Oklahoma Student Fund, which would allocate $300 million in new per-pupil funding in a way that gives rural districts more money per student than larger districts. They’ve argued that a cap blocking any district from getting more than $2 million in new per-pupil funding puts large urban and suburban districts at a disadvantage.
Stitt’s plan also includes the House’s proposed refundable school tax credit of $5,000 per child attending a private school. The Senate amended the House’s education bills to make it a $7,500 tax credit that’s only available to families earning less than $250,000 per year.
In the first two years of the program, Stitt proposes giving families earning less than $250,000 first crack at the tax credits. But Stitt’s plan leaves the door open for wealthier families to also claim the credits.
The state would allow for no more than $200 million in tax credits in the first two years of the program, according to Stitt’s plan. In year three of the program, Stitt proposes increasing the refundable tax credit to $6,500 per private-school student and eliminating the income cap and the $200 million cap on total tax credits.
Stitt’s plan does incorporate some parts of the Senate’s proposed teacher pay raise.
Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, proposed giving teachers pay raises of $3,000 to $6,000 based on their years of experience in the classroom. Stitt proposes reducing the sliding scale of pay raises to $2,000 to $5,000. The House plan proposed flat across-the-board pay raises of $2,500.
McCall said Stitt’s plan is a step in the right direction.
“It is a strong plan, a bold plan,” he said in an interview.
Legislative Democrats on Thursday proposed an $800 million education plan that doesn’t include any tax credits for the parents of home-school or private-school students. Democrats likened the tax credits to vouchers.
House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, criticized Stitt’s plan for reducing the teacher pay raises proposed by the Senate and setting aside taxpayer dollars for private-school tax credits.
“Public dollars should go to public schools,” she said in a statement. “The Governor’s plan moves money away from public schools to private schools.”
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