The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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April 26, 2014

Oklahoma’s teacher pay gap is growing

(Continued)

Tax cuts and teachers

Some lawmakers agree Oklahoma’s education is underfunded and teachers are underpaid. But they said there is just not enough money available for much more.

Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said he empathizes with the struggles of teachers like Lyons, but other residents also must make hard decisions about where to live and what career to pursue.

Sears, who sponsored an income tax-cut bill opposed by many teachers, said the need for more education funding comes at a time when the state is in a fiscal pinch. More funds also are needed for public safety, mental health and corrections.

Sears believes that a friendlier tax climate will attract more private companies to Oklahoma, generating more economic growth and a bigger tax haul.

The Senate’s income tax-cut bill, which adopted provisions of the House bill, was sent to the governor Wednesday.

“I will never forget who sends money to Oklahoma City,” Sears said. “It’s the taxpayers. And I feel very comfortable sending some of this money back.”

Opponents of the tax cut say Oklahoma’s tax burden already is low, and that the best way to attract more business is to provide a first-rate education system and invest wisely in public essentials, like health care.

Hampton said when it comes to teacher salaries, the state has been kicking the can down the road for years.

While teachers don’t go into the field just for the pay, they need to be paid enough to support themselves and their families, she said.

“It’s sort of like being taken for granted,” Hampton said. “They’re (teachers) doing a good job but we can’t pay them more this year, but that’s OK because they’re going to still do a good job.”

A bill raising teachers’ base pay by $2,000 failed to gain traction in the Legislature this year. State Superintendent Janet Barresi has asked districts to voluntarily implement the pay hike using reserve funding. The minimum starting pay for teachers would increase to $33,600.

Barresi’s proposal has met with resistance from school administrators, who say the raise is not sustainable without increased state funding.

“I know that’s not sustainable, but let’s break that logjam,” Barresi said. “Let’s show the Legislature what this will do for morale.”

Other options are to increase the state’s horizontal drilling tax or franchise fee or increase education earmarks in the budget. But it’s unclear if such hikes will pass and how much they would be.

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