Teacher pay, school spending to get in-depth review


Ray Carter | July 22, 2021

Teacher pay, school spending to get in-depth review

Ray Carter

Oklahoma’s ranking on teacher pay in national comparisons has been described as among the nation’s lowest, but experts have long noted such claims don’t account for many factors, including differences in the cost-of-living in Oklahoma along with the often-unnoted value of various benefits that teachers in Oklahoma receive that educators in other states do not.

Under a plan approved by its legislative oversight committee, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) will try to resolve those disputes in the coming year.

Mike Jackson, executive director of LOFT, said during the oversight committee’s July meeting that the agency’s work plan for the coming year includes a review of “comprehensive compensation for Oklahoma teachers.”

He said that project will include an examination of “the total compensation for public school teachers,” a 10-state regional comparative analysis of “total compensation,” identification of “policy trends and best practices related to teacher compensation,” and a “competitive analysis on teacher benefits and salary” that will be adjusted for cost-of-living differences.

The committee approved the work plan, which not only included the review of teacher compensation but also a separate project where LOFT officials will identify “all funding sources and key expenditure categories” for the K-12 school system with officials focused on identifying “expenditures that are directly tied to outcomes.”

The teacher pay review was welcomed by some lawmakers.

“I’ve been here seven years and we talk about teacher pay all seven years,” said Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah and co-chair of the LOFT oversight committee. “And we see different forms from across the United States. ‘We’re 25. We’re 26. We’re 47.’ And so I think we need to have information as soon as possible.”

But other lawmakers appeared skeptical.

“The ultimate objective is looking at a different way of calculating total teacher compensation, because you’re adding in adjusting for a cost of living,” said Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. “That is a very different way than what we have looked at that before.”

In 2018, lawmakers approved sizable pay raises for teachers, and then a second pay raise in 2019, boosting average teacher pay by more than $7,000 per educator since 2018.

But there have been disputes over Oklahoma’s true ranking among the 50 states when it comes to teacher salaries.

When National Public Radio reviewed teacher salaries prior to the 2018 raise, NPR noted, “When people (not just teachers and politicians, but reporters, too) talk about average salaries, they often use numbers that haven't been adjusted for regional differences in cost of living. Clearly, the costs of life—from rents and mortgages to movies, food and day care—vary widely, depending on where we live. Without adjusting for that, comparing teachers’ salaries in New York to, say, California is classic apples to oranges.”

While the raw figure for average Oklahoma teachers’ salaries ranked 49th at that time, when those paychecks were adjusted for cost-of-living differences, NPR found that the purchasing power of Oklahoma’s teacher pay actually ranked 40th and was no longer in the bottom 10. Adjusted for cost-of-living, NPR found that Oklahoma pay was better than in neighboring Colorado and New Mexico and states like New Hampshire, Washington, Hawaii, and Maine.

Following the 2018 teacher pay raise, which boosted average salaries by more than $6,000 per teacher in Oklahoma, the 1889 Institute conducted a similar analysis. The 1889 Institute noted that the raw figure for Oklahoma teacher pay prior to the salary increase ranked 48th nationally, but 31st after accounting for cost-of-living differences. Once the 2018 pay raise was added to the mix, the raw figure for Oklahoma teacher pay jumped to 28th and surged to 11th best nationwide after adjusting for cost-of-living differences.

Officials have also questioned how effectively Oklahoma schools are using the money provided to them.

Despite the pay raises and state school funding that has surged from $2.4 billion in 2018 to $3.2 billion in the 2021-22 school year, schools still started the 2020-2021 school year with a larger teacher shortage than they did prior to 2018 tax increases and pay raises, and academic results have been largely stagnant or declining even as funding has surged.

Jackson said the teacher-pay review should be completed by September 2022. He said the review of teacher pay was not requested by any individual lawmaker but noted that the issue of teacher pay is a perennial topic at the Capitol.

Blancett conceded that “the method of comparison varies based on your source,” but said some national sources provide an “apples to apples” comparison and asked if LOFT would be using that national data or “creating this whole new framework for evaluating compensation.”

Jackson said the review would include research from numerous sources.

“Within our work—program evaluation—it’s verify, verify, verify, and try to find those sources that do have the national appeal that allows for some of that, but also to make sure that they are taking everything into consideration,” Jackson said.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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