A new national study that gave Oklahoma high marks for teacher quality while raising concerns about the low pay of public school instructors should send a clear message to state policy makers, according to the leader of the Oklahoma State Senate.
The message, according to Senator Stratton Taylor, is that Oklahoma needs to raise teacher pay this year.
"The report confirms what most of us have known for a long time. We have great teachers, but we don't pay them very well. Until we enact a meaningful teacher pay raise, we'll continue to lose those high-quality teachers to better-paying positions in other states and other professions," said Senator Taylor.
"That brain-drain of teachers hurts our schools, our kids and ultimately, our economic development efforts."
In its latest edition, the national trade publication Education Week magazine ranked Oklahoma third in the country for the quality of its teachers. However, the report also raised concerns about overall teacher compensation, noting that the nation's public school instructors make thousands of dollars less than similarly trained professionals in the private sector.
Oklahoma pays its teachers some of the lowest salaries in the country, ranking 48th in the latest national comparison. According to media reports, the low pay has forced many teachers to leave for higher-paying jobs in surrounding states, exacerbating an ongoing teacher shortage in Oklahoma.
"We won't be able to boast about having the best teachers for long if we continue to pay them some of the lowest wages in the country. I think it's critical that we pass a teacher pay hike this year. It would be a nice reward on the heels of the Education Week report," said Senator Taylor.
The Senate leader and House Speaker Loyd Benson have both indicated that they will make teacher pay their top priority when lawmakers return for their annual legislative session in February.
"I think it's important that we do something for all of our teachers. When you rank 48th in the country and are heading toward 50th, a band aid solution won't work. We have to do something significant," noted Senator Taylor.
Taylor said he hoped legislative leaders would be able to persuade Governor Keating to support such a pay raise program, but recent statements by the Governor indicate he may be a tough sell. For example, in announcing the Republican agenda for education in November, Governor Keating said he would hold teacher pay raises "hostage" in an effort to get the GOP program adopted.
"I'd hate to see such an important issue degenerate into a game of partisan politics. We shouldn't hold our teachers hostage or use them as political footballs. I think a statesman-like approach would be far more appropriate than a partisan one," said Senator Taylor.