Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) is co-authoring a bill that would raise the minimum salary schedule for Oklahoma teachers.
House Bill 2966 would raise each salary on the minimum salary schedule by $2,000.
"A pay raise is overdue and is necessary if we want to continue to encourage young men and women to become teachers," Ownbey said. "Adequate pay is a key issue in preventing teacher shortages. If we are serious about education in Oklahoma, we have to invest in it."
The minimum salary schedule for a new teacher ranges from $31,600 to $34,000, depending on the level of education and training. For each year on the job, the salary schedule increases their pay by $375 until a teacher reaches 25 years on the job, at which point step raises discontinue.
Ownbey indicated it would cost the State of Oklahoma $100 million to fund the pay increases. The source of funding would be a tax break on horizontal drilling. When the tax break was granted by the state, horizontal drilling was seen as an experimental endeavor. To stimulate drilling, a 7 percent tax on production was dropped to 1 percent. Ownbey said the tax break is scheduled to expire this year. A tax of one percent gives the state $332 million.
"If we negotiated somewhere in between one and seven percent, we would have enough to take care of the teachers and some of the state workers that have not received a pay increase," Ownbey said. "The tax break was given over a period of time so they could experiment with horizontal drilling, and it worked. It has done a great job, but the period of experimentation is over. It is not like we are running up taxes."
Ownbey said Texas charges 6 percent and South Dakota charges 11 percent. Former Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) is in favor of making the tax break permanent to encourage drilling, but Ownbey said new House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) has not closed the door on the issue.
"We have infrastructure we are not taking care of," Ownbey said. "I talked to the speaker to see where he stood on it, and he is not closing the door on it. My thoughts, on what he told me, are that it is an issue worth looking at it.
"The companies are coming to Oklahoma because the oil is in the ground. We need to look at this revenue as revenue we can invest in our infrastructure."
Owbey also addressed the fact step raises are discontinued for educators after 25 years of teaching.
"The way the bill is written right now, it doesn't address that, but we need to address it at some point," Ownbey said. "Those teachers are invaluable to us. I think most of the time, frankly, those veteran teachers are taken care of on a case-by-case basis, depending on what the school district wants to do. But we need to put it in there. They are just as valuable and bring a lot of experience. We need to show we value them."