Sen. Bryce Marlatt on Tuesday said he intends to file legislation to give Oklahoma teachers an across the board pay increase in the coming legislative session. Marlatt said the state’s teacher shortage has reached a point of crisis, with school administrators across the state struggling to fill teaching vacancies.
The State Department of Education has received an unusually high number of requests for emergency teaching certifications, which allow candidates who have not completed standard education and training requirements to teach in state classrooms, he said.
“We have reached a point where a teacher pay raise is not only long overdue, but necessary to address what has become a crisis in our schools,” said Marlatt, R-Woodward. “The growing gap between Oklahoma and surrounding states on teacher pay is making it increasingly difficult for Oklahoma schools to recruit teachers, and we are clearly falling behind. It’s time for the state of Oklahoma to address the problem before the situation worsens.”
Marlatt said the state’s tight budget circumstances call for a creative solution to the issue of teacher pay. He said he will propose a ballot initiative to use funds from Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), which has a balance of nearly $1 billion, to fund the pay raise.
With smoking rates having reached an all-time low in Oklahoma, and with the percentage of smokers trending downward, Marlatt said the funds could be used without compromising the mission and progress of TSET.
“Ultimately, this money belongs to the taxpayers, and I am confident that they would agree that giving our teachers a long overdue raise is the best way the state can utilize these funds right now,” Marlatt said. “Before we can competitively recruit the best talent, we have to reach a point where we at least have a teacher in every classroom. This is the reality of how far we have fallen behind on teacher pay. Complaining without offering ideas isn’t going to solve this problem – the time has come for us to think outside the box and explore creative solutions to improve teacher pay.”