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Fighting to Close Budget Hole, Oklahoma Again Debates Teacher Pay, Consolidation

In an ongoing effort to close a huge budget hole, Oklahoma politicians are debating again how to increase teacher pay and consolidate school districts.  

The state will soon enter its third special session this year in order to close an estimated $215 million midyear budget deficit that has already sent a wave of cuts down to state agencies and local school districts.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin last week signed an executive order for the state's board of education to parse out districts' administrative costs and instructional costs, something that deeply offended some local school officials, according to local reports. Fallin said she would like to see consolidated or annexed by the state with its neighbors those districts that spend less than 60 percent of their costs on overhead.  

And a proposal by a state legislator last week would have generated more than $430 million by increasing taxes on motor fuel, tobacco, alcohol, and energy production. It would have also provided each of the state's teachers with a $3,000 pay raise. But it failed to garner the 76 votes needed in the House, according to local reports.

Teacher pay and district consolidation have long been controversial issues in the state. Teachers have complained that their pay hasn't increased for years, causing a teacher shortage that's left many classrooms manned by substitute teachers.

State politicians have complained that district officials mispend the money they're given on frivolous administrative costs and "swag" such as pens and coffee mugs. Conservative politicians have argued that concolidating the state's more rural districts will save money by reducing overhead.  Similar efforts in other states have produced mixed results in saving money.  

Every state in the coming months will have to determine what school costs versus what administrative costs are as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal law requires state departments of education to report local, state and federal spending of its schools. 


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