Teacher pay raises top legislative breakfast

Frustration continues for state lawmakers as they try to find a way to provide pay raises for Oklahoma teachers.

Sen. Stephanie Bice said Tuesday that a proposed walkout by teachers continues to draw attention to a problem that has been ongoing.

“We all recognize that teachers need a pay raise. There is no doubt about that. The question is how do you fund it? That’s the big issue,” the Oklahoma City lawmaker said.

Bice was among the area lawmakers attending the Yukon Chamber of Commerce’s monthly legislative breakfast.

Bice reflected on teacher walkout that is ongoing in West Virginia, where like Oklahoma, lawmakers are struggling to find a compromise on how to give teacher raises despite only needing a simple majority.

“That is not the case in Oklahoma,” she said.

In Oklahoma, more than three-quarters of lawmakers have to approve any type of revenue-

raising proposal.

She said that is virtually impossible.

“I could put seven or eight options on the table, and say pick two, pick three. I could not get 75 percent agreement on that,” Bice said. “That’s where we are.”

Bice said the question is not whether teachers need a raise, it’s how to pay for it.

“It’s not that we don’t support it, we just can’t figure out how to pay for it,” she said.

Sen. Lonnie Paxton and Rep. Rhonda Baker agreed.

Paxton said among the legislation that he filed this year was one that would eliminate the 75 percent requirement for revenue-raising measures. His proposal would have lowered the threshold to 60 percent.

It failed to make it out of the rules committee.

“The thought when it (SQ-640) passed … was that if (the situation) ever got dire enough or if we have a big enough emergency, we could come to an agreement. … That was in error. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

The reality, Paxton said, is that state agencies will have to live with a 2 percent funding cut.

Baker, who is a former Yukon teacher, said she is sympathetic to the plight of teachers.

“That’s why I ran,” she said.

Baker said the Oklahoma Education Association plans to unveil a proposal that would provide $10,000 pay raises for state teachers over a three-year period on Thursday.

“That’s wonderful to ask us to do that. But how are we going to do that, where is the money going to come from?” Baker asked.

Meanwhile, Baker, who recently was elected chairman of the House education committee, said special sessions have reduced the number of bills that were filed this year.

Only about 330 made it out of committee and will be heard on the House floor, which is significantly below normal.

In addition, there are at least four people planning to run for the House speaker’s position.

“It does make things pretty challenging in the House,” she said.

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