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Fact check: Would Stitt's proposed raise bring teacher pay to number one in the region?

(File/KOKH)

Some educators are questioning Governor Kevin Stitt’s claims about teacher salaries. During his State of the State address earlier this week, the governor announced his proposal for a $1,200 pay raise for teachers.

He says it would “bring our teachers to number one in our region in pay and benefits.”

Other say the numbers don’t add up.

“To be number one in the region, the $1,200 isn’t going to make it,” said Katherine Bishop, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

Both the governor’s office and OEA are analyzing data from the National Education Association to come up with their raise proposals. However, the governor is looking at the 2017 rankings, which are confirmed and certified. OEA is using the 2019 estimations.

The 2017 data puts the average teacher salary in Oklahoma at $45,292. If you add last year’s pay raise of $6,100 and Stitt’s proposed $1,200, it comes to $52,592. The new total is $17 more than the average teacher salary in Texas ($52,575), which has the highest paid teachers in the region.

The 2019 estimations put the average teacher salary in Oklahoma at $51,678 (before a new raise) and in Texas at $53,766. According to that data, teachers would need a raise of at least $2,089 to become the highest paid in the region.

Technically, both claims are accurate, depending on which set of NEA rankings you analyze.

“Regardless, we’re really close to being number one,” said Alberto Morejon, an 8th grade teacher at Stillwater Junior High. “It’s awesome to say we’re number one, but at the end of the day, does it really mean much?”

Morejon says he’d rather see Oklahoma be number one in the region for per-pupil spending, instead of average teacher salary. However, the governor’s proposal didn’t include additional funding for the classroom.

“I promise you, if you ask teachers, the majority are going to tell you, unselfishly, I’d rather have funding than a raise,” he said. “That’s the reality of it.”

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs agrees a teacher pay raise alone isn’t going to solve the problems with education in our state.

“It’s going to take a number of different solutions that have to be implemented,” said OCPA President Jonathan Small.

He thinks a bigger chunk of school funding should come from local governments.

“And that’s really what would help equalize the playing field as it relates to recruiting teachers, when we’re competing against Texas and Colorado and Arkansas and Missouri and Kansas and other states,” Small said.

Governor Stitt does plan to review the state’s current funding formula. He mentioned it in his State of the State address:

We must chart a bold course that allows for communities to do more for their students without being penalized with the loss of state support. State government cannot fix education’s funding needs alone. We must stand arm-in-arm with communities, cities, and counties. Oklahoma is stronger when we are all working together.

To truly be number one in the region, Morejon says “we need more funding, and that’s what teachers want.”

OEA is also calling for a pay raise for support professionals, along with an additional $150 million in funding for the classroom. They’ve asked lawmakers to complete their requests by April 1st.

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