Curtis Shelton | February 9, 2023

Here’s how to raise Oklahoma teachers’ pay

Curtis Shelton

Critics of state Superintendent Ryan Walters’s proposed education budget have been particularly unhappy that, instead of an across-the-board pay raise, Walters prefers a more targeted raise where high-performing teachers could earn as much as $10,000 more each year. Critics believe an across-the-board pay raise will be more effective at retaining teachers and drawing in new teachers, which could help to reduce class sizes.

This is despite the fact that Oklahoma’s recent pay increases haven’t led to a significant change in the teaching labor force, and that research has shown that class size plays a small role in student outcomes.

As far as in-school factors go, teacher quality tends to have the most impact on student outcomes. “To make classes smaller,” education researcher Greg Forster points out, “you have to hire more teachers. To hire more teachers, you have to hire the teachers who didn’t make the cut before. And teacher quality is one of the factors with the strongest empirical evidence supporting its importance to education outcomes.”

An Oklahoma teacher could see a bonus of more than $8,000 simply by adding three students to his or her classroom.

Teacher retention is a much more important policy goal, as teachers with more experience tend to become better teachers over time.

In addition to Walters’s pay-increase proposal, there’s another way high-performing teachers could see a pay bump. A report from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University shows how shifting spending decisions from reducing classroom size to improving and keeping high quality teachers can provide big pay increases for teachers—without costing districts money.

As a district’s student population grows, instead of hiring a new teacher with a full salary and benefits package, the district can shift a few students into the best-performing teachers’ classrooms with an accompanying bonus. As Marguerite Roza and Amanda Warco highlight in their report, an Oklahoma teacher could see a bonus of more than $8,000 simply by adding three students to his or her classroom.

And here’s another idea. If Oklahoma would simply reduce non-teaching staff to 1992 levels, there is a potential for an additional raise of $6,000 for all teachers.

If all of these proposals were adopted, a high-performing teacher could see an approximately $24,000 pay raise. That may sound fanciful to some, but it proves that there is a route to making a robust financial commitment to teachers while also reforming the education system so that those investments are aimed at improving student outcomes.

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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