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SECOND OPINION

Daily Oklahoman, March 20

The Oklahoma Senate tried unsuccessfully last week to give teachers a $5,000 pay raise and boost state employee pay by $2,500. The education establishment's reaction to the plan says much about its mindset in the lead up to a promised April 2 walkout.
Deborah Gist, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, tweeted that, "A $5,000 increase for our teachers is NOT success. Our teachers are underpaid by $10,000-$20,000. Let's actually address this problem & not just tinker around the edges of it."
Tinker around the edges? Sen. Michael Bergstrom, R-Adair, a former longtime public school teacher, noted that the proposed teacher raises would have been a 12.7 percent boost in pay and would have raised the average teacher salary higher than in any surrounding state except Texas.
Not to mention, just a month ago teachers and students swarmed the Capitol to urge passage of the Step Up Oklahoma plan, which included $5,000 raises.
A month later, we have tweets such as these from the Oklahoma Education Association, sent as the Senate was preparing to vote on the bill last week: "Nothing for support professionals, nothing for our classrooms, and no discussion of further raises to get us to our $10K demand."
The state's largest teachers' union continued: "This is NOT the significant funding increase our schools need and our students deserve. ."
Not significant?
The head of the OEA also dismissed as "a political stunt" House Speaker Charles McCall's proposal to give most teachers an average raise of $2,000 next year and boost pay by up to $20,000 over six years. The plan is backed by teachers who aren't affiliated with the OEA.
Bergstrom pointed out that the Senate bill was nearly identical to a revenue bill Senate Democrats supported in November. Yet this time, none of the eight Dems voted in favor. Why? Bergstrom said one Democratic Senator told him, "It doesn't meet the ask."
The "ask" from the OEA is for $1.4 billion over three years, to cover $10,000 raises for teachers and $5,000 raises for support personnel, along with $213 million for public employees, $200 million in restored school funding and $256 million to bolster programs through the Oklahoma Health Care Authority that have been cut.
The Senate sought to increase the gross production tax from 2 percent to 4 percent on all wells, the fuel tax by 6 cents per gallon, and the tobacco tax by $1 per pack (the Step Up plan had a $1.50-per-pack increase).
That wasn't good enough. Not even close. Apparently if the OEA "wants all or nothing," Bergstrom said, "the Democrats march in lock step."
The OEA's reaction to this bill and to McCall's proposal makes clear that it's taking an all-or-nothing approach. Some improvement won't work — the OEA, it seems evident, wants the whole pie, even if that means hurting other entities such as the Department of Corrections and the state's mental health agency, whose budgets would surely be impacted for years to come.
This strategy carries the risk of alienating parents and other taxpayers, who generally support the teachers' cause but may begin wondering why truly meaningful pay raises aren't good enough.

GUEST COLUMN, Ganon Evans, Kansas Policy Institute

 

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