In what turned into an extended discussion, Rep. Pat Ownbey, (R) Ardmore, and Sen. Frank Simpson, (R) Springer, discussed the difficulties in funding a teacher pay raise during the final Ardmore Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon of the session last week. 

In a discussion prompted by a question from the audience, the legislators addressed a hot topic issue of the session, increasing teacher pay across the state. The topic has been at the forefront of education as the state has dealt with a historic hemorrhage of teachers to area states that can offer teachers higher salaries, such as Texas. 

Ownbey said in order to fund a pay increase a consistent stream of revenue has to be identified. 

“You have to be able to fund it some way,” Ownbey said. “You can’t just support it for a year. If you want additional revenues in funding education you have to find them through revenue generating measures.” 

“If you do a teacher pay raise you have to have reoccurring revenue to pay for that pay raise,” Simpson said. 

Simpson said he didn’t believe a teacher pay raise would be possible this year going into session, with the state facing filling a $880 million hole left by the general revenue failure. The State Department of Education was one of the few agencies that didn’t see a cut. The State Regents for Higher Education, however, wasn’t so lucky and continued the trend of receiving less funds. 

“OU and OSU can survive that,” Simpson said. “They can find ways to get money and cover a budget cut but as the budget cut trickles down to the feed trough and you get to the regional colleges and community colleges that cut is very profound.” 

While both Ownbey and Simpson said a teacher pay raise is needed to stay competitive, the problem comes with funding the pay increase. State Question 640, which was passed in 1992, requires 75 percent approval from both houses (or approval via a vote of the people in a general election) in order for a revenue increasing bill to become law. Simpson said he believes many legislators in both houses don’t have “the political courage” to vote for a revenue increasing bill. The legislators said creating a new revenue bill to fund the teacher pay raise would require 3/4 of both houses to cooperate. 

Simpson noted that there are some misconceptions surrounding teacher pay in other states. He cited the minimum teacher pay in Texas, which is $28,080 for a teacher with no experience, according to the Texas Education Agency. The minimum salary of a teacher with no experience in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, is $31,600. 

Ownbey told the attendees of the luncheon that the legislator only sets the minimum teacher pay, which leaves the districts to make the decision on teachers’ salaries. Both noted that the minimum salary schedule needs to be increased. 

In a change of pace, the legislative duo asked the crowd several questions regarding educational funding, including school administration consolidation. When asked who in the room would support administrative consolidation, a large majority of the room raised their hands. When asked who would support school consolidation, including area schools, the same majority of attendees raised their hands. 

School consolidation and administrative consolidation has been viewed as a potential solution to education budget woes statewide. Administrative consolidation would eliminate several administrative positions in an area and create a single, or a reduced number, of superintendent(s) who would oversee schools in an area.