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Debate Over Teacher Raises Returns To State Legislature

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

Less than a month after the election, new legislation is on the table to fund teacher pay raises in Oklahoma.

Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, is the author of the bill and a former educator himself. He says everyone agrees that teachers deserve competitive salaries.

“We are training them here in Oklahoma,” he said. “We have one of the best education systems to train teachers, and then they’re packing up and going to states with better pay.”

The problem is finding the money.

“We just basically have ignored the situation. We’ve tried to kick the can down the road, and there’s no place now to kick it,” said Sharp.

This is the third time Sharp has proposed a bill for teacher raises. The bill allocates a $5,000 salary increase per teacher; the same raise proposed by the failed state question 779. As vice chair of the education committee, Sharp believes voters rejected the one-cent sales tax increase because it proposed funding to higher education in addition to the raises. He says the legislature has its own challenges, however, as there are budgetary needs across the board.

“If you give the school teachers a pay increase,” said Sharp, “the Public Employees Association says we’ve not had a pay increase in 10 years, correction officers, highway patrol, everyone out there.”

To fund his proposal, Sharp suggests a fraction of a penny sales tax increase, such as three mills rather than a whole cent. He admits, though, it will take the cooperation of everyone in Congress to get 75% of the votes, which is the minimum requirement for tax increases.

“I can get 50%,” Sharp said. “I can get 60%. I can get two-thirds, but getting three-fourths is going to be almost impossible unless everyone from the governor to house and senate leadership is on board with this.”

Other possiblities for Sharp's bill include eliminating certain tax credits and raising fuel prices. He says consolidating the state’s more than 500 districts, as others have proposed, would not be a viable solution.

“If we eliminated every superintendent and vice superintendent in the state of Oklahoma, just those two positions, we’d only save $54 million,” said Sharp. “That’s not enough. It takes $60 million to give a $500 raise.”

The bill's first reading is scheduled for Feb. 6.

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