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Oklahoma is Poised to Become the Worst State for Teacher Pay

Oklahoma will become the worst state for teacher pay unless state legislators can agree on legislation this year, reports the Tulsa World.

The state will be eclipsed by South Dakota and Mississippi, which have recently passed teacher pay raises, unless Oklahoma lawmakers can agree on one of a handful of bills introduced this year. But it appears that budget issues may scuttle all of these efforts as legislators have been unable to find the money to back any of the proposals. Lawmakers, who are also trying to fill a budget gap, say that they would have to come up with $53 million for every $1,000 they raise teachers' pay, reports News 9, the CBS-affiliated television station in Oklahoma City.

According to the Tulsa World, state agencies had to cull $1.3 billion from their budgets last year, and the outlook for this year isn't much better. An additional $868 million shortfall is expected this year. 

"It is not a game," Preston Doerflinger, the state's finance secretary, said last week. "We need new revenue."

Back in November, Oklahoma voters soundly defeated a ballot initiative that would have given most teachers $5,000 pay bumps. Those raises were going to be funded with a new 1 percent state sales tax. As Teacher Beat's Brenda Iasevoli reported after the election, nearly 60 percent of state voters rejected the proposal

But Amber England—executive director of Stand For Children, a nonprofit that advocated for the ballot initiative— said it would be wrong to read those results as  a rejection of higher teacher pay.

"People were split on how to fund it," she told the World. "We were shocked at the size of the defeat, but it was necessary to get the conversation started. We had tremendous support on the issue of teacher raises, so we need to capitalize on that and shift gears a bit."

School administrators around the state have been arguing for the increase, saying that they are struggling to recruit and retain good teachers with the current salary schedule. According to a pair of surveys of exiting teachers that were done by Tulsa Public Schools, low pay is the primary reason educators are leaving the district, reported the World.  

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