OKLAHOMA CITY — Two priorities of Gov. Kevin Stitt, including a $1,200 teacher pay raise, were sent to the state Senate by the House of Representatives on Thursday.
House Bill 1780, by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, which authorizes the hikes in the state minimum pay scale, passed without dissent but not without criticism.
“We have to address our teacher shortage, and that is going to take a multifaceted approach,” McCall said in a news release after the bill passed. “Pay is one aspect of that approach. We need better pay to show our current teachers that we value their service, and we need to be able to encourage new teachers to enter the profession and retain those experienced, veteran teachers that we already have.”
Some Democrats objected to the bill because it does not include raises for support personnel or more money for classrooms.
“My sugar mama wife is a public school teacher, and I know our family would appreciate a pay raise,” said Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City.
But, he added, “teacher after teacher” has told him more resources are needed in the classroom.
Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, who presented the bill on McCall’s behalf, said money for support personnel, equipment and materials will be part of budget discussions later this session.
Stitt’s budget proposal did not include increases for those areas, but it did leave more than $300 million unappropriated. Stitt’s administration has said he wants that money held in reserve to build cash balances, but at least some of it could wind up greasing the rails to a final budget agreement.
Stitt says he wants the proposed raise, on top of a much larger one last year, because it would — temporarily, at least — move the state to first in the region for minimum teacher pay.
Stitt’s office originally estimated the total cost of the raises at $70 million but this week said the tab would be closer to $60 million.
More contentious was HB 2739, by Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, which would make a $5 million supplemental appropriation to the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, something Stitt has also insisted upon. Because the $5 million is a supplemental appropriation to the current fiscal year 2019 budget, an appropriation to the fund in the fiscal year 2020 budget now being formulated is also possible.
Economic development advocates have long complained about the state’s small to nonexistent closing fund. The fund is typically used to pay for infrastructure to assist in specific business recruitment or expansion efforts.
Several House members argued that the administration of the fund is too murky for proper oversight, but the measure passed 81-16.
The $5 million in question would come from $30 million being recovered from the state Health Department under HB 2735, also by Wallace. District courts would receive a $2.5 million supplemental appropriation from the same source.
The Health Department was given the money in 2017 to cover a discrepancy eventually resolved without the money’s being spent.