Patrick B. McGuigan, editor
State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, has long promoted a pay hike for public school teachers. In a recent interview, he detailed the reasons for his advocacy.
“We can’t have the future we want for our state without a solid education system. We can’t have a solid education system without quality teachers. We can’t have quality teachers without competitive pay. It’s as simple as that.
“This issue never should have become a crisis. Like any business would, our state should be periodically and proactively addressing compensation. Nevertheless, we let the issue fester and now it’s overshadowed everything else. There are many other things that need to be addressed in education, but we can’t get to those things if we haven’t taken care of the basics.
“Competitive teacher pay is a basic element of any education system. We need to address it and move on.”
Oklahomans as a whole rank near the bottom in annual compensation in virtually all professions. Despite the defeat of State Question 779, a big majority indicate they would support finding a way to finance a pay hike for public school teachers. This reporter asked Sen. Holt why, surveys indicate people facing economic challenges of their own support a pay hike for teachers.
He replied, “Oklahomans recognize that even in their professions, where they may feel under-compensated, they have very likely received a raise since the last time teachers did (about a decade ago). In fact, they have probably received several raises since teachers did. Good private businesses keep ahead of those issues.
“Additionally, Oklahomans recognize that teaching is one of the most important jobs in our state. Teachers prepare our children for tomorrow, and even if we don’t have kids, we know teachers are preparing our future neighbors and employees and leaders. Everyone recognizes the important role that teachers play in our society and that we need competitive pay to attract quality people to the profession.”
Despite the November defeat of State Question 779, an initiative that would have hiked sales taxes to finance a $5,000 a year pay hike for public school educators, a wide range of pay increase proposals have emerged since election day. Holt had told reporters he welcomed the wide range of ideas that emerged after the measure lost.
He has his own idea, which is crafting into legislative form during the walk-up to the legislative session in February. CapitolBeatOK asked Sen. Holt to summarize the initial details of his measure.
“We need to recognize that we let this issue fester for so long that we fell way behind, and that it will takes years to catch up, during which time other states will continue to raise their pay,” Holt said.
“That’s why I am talking about a $10,000 raise. I think it’s past time to do a $5,000 raise and declare that good enough. We have to stop just being ‘good enough.’ We need to start implementing solutions that set us up for years to come.”
Holt, who won his northwest city-area seat (which includes Warr Acres, The Village and Bethany) in the 2010 Republican primary (drawing no general election opponent), said, “I propose to fund my raise through numerous methods. I’ll have more detail when I introduce a legislative package in January, but I can say that my previous 2016 proposal was based on earmarking future revenue growth, tax reform, and combining superintendents.
“I expect my 2017 proposal will include those elements as well as others, such as looking at the many sales tax exemptions and exclusions that exist in Oklahoma but not in other states.”
Asked if any pay hike should include a “merit pay” aspect, Holt replied he “I was more an advocate of a ‘merit’ element to a teacher pay increase back when we had competitive pay. I think you should pay teachers what their job is worth and what others are paying for the same work, and then ‘merit’ pay can be layered as an incentive on top.
“When we fell so far behind other states on teacher pay, the merit concept lost appeal for me, because you don’t pay people what they’re worth and then call it a bonus. If we can get to competitive base pay, then I’d love to have the conversation about merit pay for exceptional teachers or teachers willing to teach in underserved areas or in specialized subject matters.”
A product of the Putnam City School system in west Oklahoma County, Holt and his wife Rachel, a county prosecutor, have two children. Sen. Holt won a second term in office in 2014, without opposition. He will be eligible for a third term in the 2018 election.