Many Oklahoma educators and advocates are calling the failure of HB 1033, or the Step Up Oklahoma plan, a blow to teacher retention and education funding.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma educators and their supporters descended on the state Capitol Monday, Feb. 12 for a teacher's rally in support of better education funding, including teacher pay raises.
Teacher pay and education funding are among the chief reasons former Oklahoma educators have left the classroom, according to a comprehensive survey report released by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) late January.
Those at Monday's rally, including a contingency from Miami Public Schools, gathered on the second floor of the rotunda before meeting with Legislators to push for support of the proposed 'Step Up Oklahoma' plan, officially House Bill 1033, which included a $5,000 teacher pay raise.
While the Step Up budget plan included a salary increase for teachers, making it attractive to educators, it also proposed the highest tax increase in the state's history prompting notable opposition.
The bill also faced the daunting challenge of garnering the required supermajority of three-fourths of both chambers of the Legislator per State Question 640 for revenue bills. Something that has yet to occur since SQ 640 was passed by voters in 1992.
On Monday HB 1033 only received 63 of the 76 votes needed to pass, ending hopes for teachers for a $5,000 salary increase. While reactions were mixed from within the House concerning Monday's outcome, several Oklahoma educators and their advocates expressed deep concern and disappointment.
"The failure of the state House to pass HB 1033 is a soul-crushing blow to public education in Oklahoma. The teacher shortage is real, it’s severe and each day it goes unaddressed we put our children further at risk," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister Monday evening.
“Until Oklahoma offers regionally competitive teacher pay, we will see the continued exodus of teachers to other states and other professions. We will continue to see young people reject teaching as a viable career," added Hofmeister. "This crisis hurts every public school student in Oklahoma, and it’s a crisis that only the state Legislature can remedy."
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association shared Hofmeister's concerns for the continued exodus of Oklahoma teachers to neighboring states in the wake of the HB 1033 failure.
“Today’s disappointing vote rolled out the welcome mat for Texas, Kansas and Arkansas to lure away even more of Oklahoma's talented teachers. Some lawmakers continue to play partisan politics while students and teachers continue to suffer. That's unacceptable; they’ve suffered enough," Hime said in a statement released late Monday.
"We are today in the same place we’ve been for years: in increasingly desperate need of solutions for the teacher shortage and a long-term funding plan for public education," he added. "Oklahomans can’t give up the fight because 700,000 children are counting on us."
Locally, Jeremy Hogan, Superintendent of Miami Public Schools, expressed disappointment but also the need to keep pushing for better state funding and supporting educators.
"What happened Monday was a very somber blow for our teachers and I know we're going to feel the impact by continuing to lose some incredible talent, excellent teachers to other states," said Hogan. "It is important to understand this not just about pay raises. That is important, but it is an overall lack of funding for education resources. I still hold hope, and just have to pick up the pieces and continue forward in support of my teachers the best I can.
"I also want to thank Representative Ben Loring, Senator Michael Bergstrom, and Representative West for supporting education. They met with our Miami contingency at the Capitol and really listened and have always been big supporters of education. It is good to know that on at least a local level we have that kind of support."
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.