In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the opposing approaches to K-12 education causing a rift at the state capitol. House leadership is standing with Gov. Stitt, while the Senate has a plan of its own.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, legislators are now heading into the 15th week of this legislative session, and the teacher pay raise is still a significant sticking point. We've heard this before. What does this latest iteration of the budget propose to do?
Shawn Ashley: Well, as you said we've been hearing for several weeks that they were growing closer and closer to an agreement, but we've yet to see the specifics.
Pryor: Is there an agreement on a teacher pay raise?
Ashley: Sort of. Both the governor and the House are supporting the governor's original proposal for a $1200 across the board teacher pay raise. The Senate, however, throughout the legislative session has proposed that money go straight to the classroom, and when money goes to the classroom school districts have the choice of using that how they want. They can use that to increase teacher pay. They can use that money to hire additional teachers, or to buy more supplies. But the general approach of the Senate has been for the money to go to the classroom, while the governor and the House have looked at a teacher pay raise with some additional money for classroom spending.
Pryor: How much would the teacher pay raise cost?
Ashley :A $1200 across the board teacher pay raise cost about $70 million. We have heard the governor say that total common ed additional funding would be north of of 90 million dollars, so that would be an additional 20 million to go into the classroom, perhaps. And now we have a new proposal from Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat that would put a total of $200 million into common education, but not specifically dedicate any of that money for teacher pay raise.
Pryor: It looks like a compromise could be easily done.
Ashley: It does seem that way, but you do have very different approaches. The governor and the House are looking at the $1200 number and wanting to pursue it, while the Senate is focused on putting that money into the classroom for school districts to use however they want.
Pryor: In the funding formula...
Ashley: ...In the funding formula. Earlier this year, of course, Gov. Stitt put the $1200 number on the table. The House jumped on quickly, and I believe it's that early promise that they want to keep, this idea that we raised the flag in February of a $1200 pay raise, and now we're going to make sure we do that.
Pryor: Governor Stitt wants to set aside a large chunk of the state's $575 million surplus for the rainy day fund. He suggests saving about $200 million. How are lawmakers now looking at saving from the surplus?
Ashley: Well, the House is on board with the idea of saving, but they seem to be drifting away from the idea of $200 million. The Senate, also, is on board with the idea of savings, and in Treat's latest proposal he says they can do the $200 million for common education and hit the $200 million savings number. But he says they're not wedded specifically to that $200 million savings number. The other interesting thing that Pro Tem Treat pointed out is there will probably have to be some work done on exactly how they're going to save that money. On one hand, they could put it into the rainy day fund, but that fund likely will hit its cap at the end of the current fiscal year, and you wouldn't be able to put $200 million into it. The other problem with putting the money into the rainy day fund is that limits its use and how much can be used at a particular time, and Governor Stitt has been very specific in saying what he wants ultimately down the road is three months of state expenditure saved, about $2 billion, so that if there is a revenue downturn the state has cash to fill those budget holes.
Pryor: And that's money you could access more easily...
Ashley: ...much more easily than if it were in the rainy day fund, which actually takes legislative action.
Pryor: State employees are pushing for a pay raise. Democrats support it. Where our House and Senate Republicans on that?
Ashley: House Majority Floor Leader John Echols said that the House Republicans support the idea of a state employee pay raise, but he a specific number has not been finalized. On the Senate side, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat limited his comments on a state employee pay raise to just correctional officers. There's been legislation moving through the process that would give correctional officers a $2 per hour increase, moving them from about $13 up to about $15 per hour. Right now that bill is stuck in the General Conference Committee on Appropriations and may move sometime in the future.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at dawg any capital not net Apple podcast and Spotify. Until next time with Shawn Ashley. I'm Dick Pryor.