Oklahoma’s new Republican governor told lawmakers Monday that he wants to use a projected budget surplus to give classroom teachers a $1,200, across-the-board raise that would make the state the best in the region for educators’ pay and benefits.
Gov. Kevin Stitt delivered his plan for spending about $8.2 billion and outlined his proposals in his first State of the State address to lawmakers to begin the 2019 legislative session. Among his ideas are putting more money into reserves, conducting performance audits of the largest state agencies and putting more cash into a fund the governor could use to close deals that would bring more jobs to the state.
His teacher pay plan would cost about $70 million annually and would be in addition to the average annual pay boost of $6,100 that teachers received last year before a statewide walkout over demands for more education spending .
Stitt says his vision for public education includes higher standards and more classroom money, “but we must first continue our investment in the teacher, because it’s not programs, curriculum or resources that a student will remember,” he said in prepared remarks. “The magic happens between the student and teacher in the classroom.”
Stitt’s executive budget did not include funding for the state to participate in a Medicaid expansion, however the governor and GOP leaders in the Legislature said last week they were open to the idea .
He’s also proposing $5 million to fund a recruitment effort to encourage teachers to stay in Oklahoma or return to the classroom after a hiatus.
Oklahoma currently is projected to have a surplus of $612 million over last year’s spending levels, but that number is expected to be reduced when the state’s Board of Equalization certifies the final amount that lawmakers are authorized to spend. Stitt’s Secretary of Budget Mike Mazzei says the final certified surplus could be closer to $400 million.
Stitt’s executive budget calls for nearly all state agencies to have no funding increases, although education and some health and public safety agencies would see modest boosts in spending.
As a result of the state’s rebounding economy, Oklahoma is expected to make a $422 million deposit into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing its total to $878 million. But Stitt says the state’s reserves should be at least twice that amount, and he is seeking a public vote on increasing the current cap.