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Oklahoma teachers’ real take home pay has shrunk for 10 out of the past 11 years

by | March 21st, 2018 | Posted in Education | Comments (0)

Most of the discussion on teacher pay in Oklahoma compared to other states has focused on the total compensation of teachers, since that’s what is typically used when making comparisons across states. As we recently discussed in our comparison of Oklahoma and West Virginia education funding, Oklahoma’s average 2016 teacher compensation was $45,276, ranking us lower than all but two other states.

However, in some ways that number actually overstates how Oklahoma’s teachers are faring by combining the take-home salary of teachers with the fringe benefits that pay for teachers’ health insurance. If teachers get health insurance through other means, they can use this flexible benefit allowance as taxable income, but most need it to cover their health insurance. Some districts add to those benefits by paying for things like dental, vision, life, and long-term disability insurance. These fringe benefits are important, but teachers can’t use them to cover basic expenses like food, rent, transportation, and other household needs.

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Oklahoma has many good options to resolve the teacher walkout

by | March 15th, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Education, Taxes | Comments (13)

The Oklahoma Education Association last week called on the Legislature to support an ambitious proposal to increase funding for public education and state services. The association, which represents nearly 40,000 teachers and school employees across the state, warned that “If the Legislature cannot fund education and core state services by the legal deadline of April 1, we are prepared to close schools and stay at the Capitol until it gets done.” The Oklahoma Public Employees Association, which is the largest group representing state employees, has announced that their members would join the teachers’ walkout on April 2nd unless lawmakers pass a significant state employee pay raise.

Oklahoma’s tax and budget policies have led to the current crisis

The threatened actions by the two associations follow years of budget cuts that have left teachers and state employees severely underpaid and the schools and agencies they work for desperately ill-equipped to do their jobs. To cite just a few examples, Oklahoma teachers have not seen an increase in the minimum salary schedule in a decade and our teachers are now the third-lowest paid in the nation. State funding for school operations is $180 million less than a decade ago, and Oklahoma schools have absorbed by far the deepest cuts in per pupil general state funding in the nation. Most state employees have gone eight to ten years without a raise; during this time, average salaries for state employees have fallen to 24 percent below the competitive labor market. State employee turnover has reached 20.5 percent, which is a nearly 40 percent increase from a decade earlier.

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As Oklahoma teachers plan to follow West Virginia in walkout, they confront a funding crisis that’s much worse

by | March 13th, 2018 | Posted in Education | Comments (8)

For nine days, teachers in West Virginia went on strike to protest their low pay and benefits. The strike began when West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed a bill that would give teachers just a 2 percent raise in the coming fiscal year and an additional 1 percent in 2020 and 2021 – which would not be enough to keep up with inflation or the rising cost of health care premiums. The strike ended after the Governor signed a bill providing a 5 percent raise for teachers and state employees.

Going into this showdown, the average teacher salary and benefits in West Virginia was $45,622, according to data from the National Education Association. That put them 48th in the nation out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Teachers in West Virginia made less than teachers in all but three states: South Dakota, Mississippi, and…Oklahoma. 

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More Oklahoma children could be eating breakfast. This new report outlines how.

by | March 8th, 2018 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

The cliché exists for a reason: breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Its benefits are well-documented, especially for children. However, 1 in 5 Oklahoma children may not have consistent access to breakfast, jeopardizing their growth and ability to learn. For these children, school breakfast can be a lifeline.

Unfortunately, school breakfast participation trails school lunch participation in Oklahoma. Just 58 percent of Oklahoma students who had school lunches also had school breakfast in the 2016-2017 school year, according to a new report from Hunger Free Oklahoma. This represents a missed opportunity to help thousands of Oklahoma students get the nutrition they need, especially since providing those meals would come with more than $17 million additional federal dollars.

Fortunately, as the report outlines, Oklahoma schools can increase breakfast participation, including by moving breakfast into the classroom and by serving free breakfast (and lunch) to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision.

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‘This is not OK’: Cuts are hitting all aspects of public education

by | February 22nd, 2018 | Posted in Budget, Education | Comments (3)

Miami Public Schools in Ottawa County serves about 2,500 K-12 students in seven schools. This year, four school librarian positions were eliminated, leaving the district without a single librarian.

In Newkirk, there is no librarian and no speech or drama classes. In Edmond, elementary school students no longer learn Spanish. In Agra, the band program has been eliminated and there are 45 students in a choir class. In Tulsa, the PTA and school foundations are covering teacher salaries with private funds at several schools. There are no security officers employed in any of Oklahoma City’s elementary schools.

These are just a few of dozens of stories I heard recently when I asked members of a Facebook education group to share examples of how their schools or their children’s schools have been affected by budget cuts in recent years.

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Bill Watch: Teacher pay and charter school oversight top the education agenda for this year’s Legislature

by | February 20th, 2018 | Posted in Education | Comments (7)

This post is the last in a series highlighting key bills in several issues areas that we’re following. Previous posts looked at legislation affecting economic opportunity for Oklahoma families, legislation to reform our criminal justice system, and legislation affecting Oklahomans’ access to health care.

Teacher pay on the agenda, but still no consensus on funding

When OK Policy shared our policy priorities this year, we included just one policy specifically related to education: increase teacher pay. However you measure it, Oklahoma teachers are not being paid a competitive salary. Oklahoma teachers would need a $3,000 raise for their salary and benefits to match the average of our surrounding states. They would need a $7,000 raise to match Oklahoma’s cost-of-living compared to the national average. They would need a $13,000 raise to reach the national average without accounting for cost-of-living.

As a result, the loss of many of Oklahoma’s best teachers to other states or other professions has reached crisis level. For any of our state’s goals for education to be successful, we must pay a competitive wage to the skilled educators who will responsible for implementing them. Teacher pay is the necessary foundation for any other improvements we might hope for in our schools, which is why a near-consensus of Oklahomans support giving teachers a raise.

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Lunch shaming is real – but we can end it (Guest Post: Effie Craven)

Effie Craven is the State Advocacy and Public Policy Director for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

Imagine you are a child waiting in the school lunch line with your friends.  You laugh and joke as you move through the line and get your trays, enjoying the break from class.  But when you get to the cashier and scan your meal card, there is not enough money for your lunch.  Your tray is taken from you – your hot meal is thrown away and replaced by a cheese sandwich as your classmates look on.

Practices like this, known as lunch shaming, are all too common in schools. And these practices are emotionally damaging to children, who have no control over their family’s financial situation and are often facing food insecurity at home as well. One in four Oklahoma children has inconsistent access to adequate, healthy food. The National School Breakfast and School Lunch Programs provide critical nutrition support to more than 425,000 Oklahoma children every year, but many students are either not eligible or not enrolled in the free and reduced price school meals programs.

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Our top priorities in Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative session

With the 2018 legislative session fast approaching, today we released OK Policy’s top policy priorities for the coming year.

OK Policy is committed to supporting fair and adequate funding of public services and expanded economic opportunity for all Oklahomans through research and advocacy. During the 2018 legislative session, we will work with lawmakers, community partners, and concerned citizens to promote an ambitious but achievable policy agenda in the areas of budget and taxes, economic opportunity and security, education, criminal justice, and health care.

We have identified the following issues as our top 2018 policy priorities. These are the issues on which we expect to devote the bulk of our energy and resources and to play a leading role in working with legislators in favor of good legislation and in opposition to harmful legislation. Our priority issues were selected based on numerous criteria, including their consistency with our mission, our experience and expertise on the issue, their importance for the citizens of Oklahoma, and our likelihood of success.  There are many other issues on which we expect to conduct research and contribute to policy campaigns, and issues may move on or off our top priority list as events unfold.

You can read a summary of all of our priorities here, or follow the links below for more detailed explanations. As the Legislative session develops, you can also check our advocacy alerts page to hear about ways to take action on these priorities, and check out our advocacy toolkit for more resources to stay informed and get involved during the legislative session.

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Keeping all school taxes local would break our obligation to rural kids (Capitol Update)

by | January 12th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

An idea has surfaced again recently that, since the state will not or cannot properly fund public education, local school districts should be allowed to go it alone and fix their own finances, perhaps somehow with the help of cities or counties. This is not an original idea. Since I’ve been observing or participating in civic life for the past several decades, this same idea, born of frustration, comes and goes. People care about their local schools because they care about their kids. Not only that, communities depend on the quality of their schools to attract new businesses and the new residents who are employed by them. So, when their local schools suffer, people want to solve the problem. Completely understandable.

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Watch This: Ending Hunger in Oklahoma Schools

by | January 9th, 2018 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

One in four Oklahoma children are at risk of not having enough to eat, yet the state leaves over $400 million in child nutrition funding on the table each year because of our low participation in federal assistance programs. By expanding access to federal school meal programs, we can get students the nutrition they need to develop and learn. 

Hunger Free Oklahoma, a nonprofit advocacy group in Tulsa, has a plan to help low-income schools feed more kids and increase their revenue. This video by OETA describes Hunger Free Oklahoma’s  initiative to get more Oklahoma schools and districts involved in options to minimize food insecurity, like in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP.

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