Two state legislators who oversee funding for public education in Oklahoma raised concerns Monday about state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s proposal to fund $2,000 annual teacher raises from local district carry-over funds.
Rep. Lee Denney and Sen. Jim Halligan, both Republicans from Stillwater, said they support Barresi’s goal of increasing teacher pay, but acknowledged it would be difficult for the Legislature to come up with the $100 million needed to fund the plan each year.
Denney and Halligan chair the appropriations subcommittees for education in the House and Senate, respectively.
“I’m very excited about the thought that we might be able to give our teachers raises, but being in the business I’m in, I certainly worry about a funding source, and a dedicated funding source, so that we could keep the raises funded every year,” Denney said.
In a speech over the weekend to a group of administrators and school board members, Barresi urged local school districts and boards of education to consider tapping surplus carry-over funds and “repurposing” funding within their districts to pay for the raises without a legislative appropriation. She reiterated her challenge to districts on Monday before the inaugural meeting of a task force focused on addressing a shortage of teachers in Oklahoma.
“It is now time this state really take a look at this seriously, and so I’m challenging all districts to take a look at this,” Barresi said. “This is not a mandate.”
Halligan said he is particularly concerned about using a one-time funding source to pay for raises that would become a recurring cost for local districts.
“You’re using one-time funds for continuing operations, and that’s always a very dangerous path to go down,” Halligan said. “I think what her proposal does is highlight the need that we have, but I’d need an opportunity to look at specific districts across the state to see exactly how this could be implemented, so I’d be cautious.”
Barresi, who won the superintendent post during a Republican tide in 2010, is expected to face a stiff challenge in 2014. Several Democrats have lined up to seek the post, as well as Tulsa Republican Joy Hofmeister, a former state school board member appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin. The most recent campaign finance reports show Hofmeister with about $144,000 in her campaign fund, a little more than the $142,000 Barresi reported.