Education Board OKs Budget Requests for Teacher Pay

By The Ada News

Oklahoma teachers would receive a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise under a budget proposal approved Thursday by the State Board of Education, but they shouldn't plan to spend the money any time soon.

"It is time we as a state offer better compensation to these dedicated and talented individuals who give so much of themselves in service to our children," said state Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Gov. Mary Fallin and leaders in the GOP-led Legislature have signaled support for pay raises for Oklahoma teachers, among the lowest paid in the nation with a starting salary of $31,600. But the reality of Oklahoma's budget situation will make it difficult. Although state revenue collections are trending upward, legislative budget writers used about $290 million in one-time revenue sources to fund the current year's budget, which will eat into any growth revenue next year.

"I'm thankful the revenue is trending the way it is, but I would caution against anyone thinking there's going to be a bucket full of extra money," said Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger, the governor's top budget negotiator with the Legislature.

State agencies routinely request tens of millions of dollars in new spending that is far more than the Legislature can appropriate.

The state Board of Corrections met separately Thursday in Oklahoma City and approved a budget proposal asking for a more than $84 million increase for the state's prison system. The request includes $14 million for pay raises, $26 million for an increase in the number of prisoners and other requests. The total request for the upcoming fiscal year is more than $555 million.

Doerflinger said the inflated budget requests are part of a bothersome trend of agencies developing unrealistic wish lists for new state spending.

Doerflinger said the Office of Management and Enterprise Services plans to use a new performance-based budgeting tool in discussions with agencies this year designed to identify efficiencies and savings.

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The money for the raises is part of a $2.78 billion funding request the agency is submitting for the Legislature to consider for the budget year that begins July 1. The request includes nearly $300 million in new spending.