Teacher pay raise bill passes out of Senate committee, still no funding source

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OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill that would give Oklahoma teachers their first pay raise in nine years has been approved by a Senate committee just ahead of a deadline.

However, officials say they still do not know how they would pay for the increase.

On Wednesday, House Bill 1114 passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill by Republican Rep. Michael Rogers of Broken Arrow calls for a $1,000 raise next year, $2,000 the following year and $3,000 in the third year.

However, the bill does not currently include a funding source and would cost the state about $53 million a year.

"We always put the cart before the horse," said Sen. J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso), who voted against the bill. "To talk about a pay raise for four months and then actually have no product at the end, that's a blow to morale and I think if we're not actually going to take it seriously, we need to not talk about it at all."

It's a matter of honesty and transparency, Dossett said. News of the committee passing the bill gives the false impression teachers are getting a raise.

"Things that come out of this building, teachers are trained to understand that it's not going to happen," said Dossett, who is also a teacher. "It's all talk. People at home know it's not true."

Dossett still applauded the bill's co-author, Sen. Jason Smalley (R-Stroud), who pushed it forward as something of a rough draft, leaving the senate to figure out the details later.

"Deep in my heart, no I don't [believe this can happen]," he told NewsChannel 4. "I don't believe a teacher pay raise is the best thing if we're going to cut education budget overall. I think that's going to look very bad and disingenuous."

The bill passed in the House, but it may face some opposition in the Senate.

Last month, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz said without a way to pay for the raise, the bill amounts to giving teachers “false hope.”

At the time, Schulz said lawmakers already are facing a budget hole of nearly $880 million and that it doesn’t make sense to incur more debt without some method of funding it.

Smalley said his chamber will begin looking for funding again next week, but didn't appear optimistic he would find it.

"I don't want to give teachers a pay raise on the backs of children," he said. "I don't think educators want more money in their pockets just so they can have more students to educate. We need more one-on-one training, we need lower class sizes, and I'm hopeful that we can keep education whole, and if we can then I'll be very supportive about moving this pay raise through."

But Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), a former teacher, said a raise is necessary to attract quality teachers.

He voted for the bill Wednesday morning.

"This is something which we have to do," he said. "You stay optimistic because you have to have hope that the better angels of our nature will prevail that people will come together up here and the voters of Oklahoma have to realize that this will take a tax revenue increase."

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