Poll Finds Oklahoma Voters Poised to Increase Taxes to Give Teachers Raises
According to a new poll, Oklahoma voters, by a wide margin, support a measure that would use a 1 percent sales tax increase to give the state's teachers $5,000 raises.
According to a March 2015 study by the National Education Association, the state ranked 48th in terms of teacher pay during the 2013-14 school year. Since then, lawmakers in the other states that have hovered near the bottom of that ranking—Mississippi, South Dakota, and Idaho —have all passed bills to increase educators' salaries. Whether Oklahoma teachers see raises will depend on the results of the November 8 ballot initiative on whether to institute the penny tax.
As Education Week's Daarel Burnette II reported in September, after years of deep budget cuts, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, said that her administration had found $140 million to use on teacher pay raises, but teachers denounced the move as a ploy to defeat the ballot measure. Many Oklahoma districts have pointed to low pay, particularly when compared to neighboring states, as the primary culprit for their difficulty in retaining good teachers.
"When you can drive 30 minutes across the state line to Missouri, or 20 minutes to Kansas, and make an average of $7,800 more, you've got to make some decisions that are best for your family," Jeremy Hogan, school superintendent in Miami, Okla., told the Tulsa World.
The measure would not only be a boon for teachers, but also for schools more broadly speaking, as the referendum would send money flowing to school districts, state higher education institutions, the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, and the state education department. The ballot initiative only mandates that every teacher receives a $5,000 raise; how other funds raised through the tax increase are used is left up to those agencies to determine. According to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Oklahoma has led the nation in decreases in public education funding since 2008: Per pupil spending is down by 27 percent, when adjusted for inflation, since that year.