Special to Guthrie News Page
By: Governor Mary Fallin
Teacher salaries need to be increased in the state of Oklahoma. This is a simple fact, especially as we compare our teacher compensation to surrounding states. It’s also obvious when school districts from other states come to our state to hold recruiting drives, such as the Dallas Independent School District’s three-day job fair in Oklahoma City the first week of this month.
For the past two years I have called for a teacher pay increase in my State of the State addresses, but there has not been a solution to this challenge. We must address this issue if we expect to continue to be a prosperous state.
I again asked legislators to address increasing teacher pay as part of my call for the special session in September. A proposed budget bill that included new revenue to fund a teacher pay raise failed in the House of Representatives, falling just five votes shy of the three-quarters threshold necessary for revenue-raising measures. I will continue to push for a teacher pay raise during my time in office.
The state of Oklahoma has a role in increasing the salaries of teachers…BUT local school districts also have a responsibility to increase the compensation of teachers. In late November, I signed an executive order to begin thoughtful conversations about local budgets, cost-saving efficiencies, and how school districts could send more dollars to classrooms. Our citizens support additional dollars going towards instructional expenditures, which include teacher pay raises and classroom curricular resources.
If paying teachers higher wages is a statewide priority, then local school district budgets should place a higher premium on getting additional dollars to the classroom. The most important component of successful educational outcomes is an effective teacher in every classroom. However it is not the only factor, and teacher pay raises alone will not improve educational outcomes. They are a very important step, but we must increase academic expectations and classroom teachers need to have the instructional materials and technology to enhance student learning.
Like teacher pay raises, these are issues I have asked the Legislature to address the past couple of years, telling them most recently during my last State of the State address in February: “A thriving, prosperous economy must have a skilled, educated workforce. That starts with good teachers in the classrooms providing our children a quality education five days a week. We have to ensure more existing dollars are reaching every classroom by tackling administrative inefficiencies head-on.”
My executive order directs the Oklahoma State Board of Education, with the assistance of the state superintendent of public instruction, to compile a list of school districts that spend less than 60 percent of their budget on instructional expenditures by Sept. 1. In other words, no more than 40 percent should go to non-classroom expenses. Based on in-depth analysis of how school districts prioritize their budgets, the State Board of Education and the state superintendent of public instruction will recommend actions to enhance cost-sharing efficiencies between schools by July 2019.
This action is intended to encourage administrators and school boards to intensely review school district budgets. Oklahoma’s students deserve a high-quality educator in every classroom. The state and local districts both need to do their part to ensure the best teachers can be recruited and retained through a competitive compensation package.