—Robert C. Johnston
Budget for ’05 to Aid Teachers
Oklahoma lawmakers breathed a sigh of relief this past session, thanks to a greatly improved Oklahoma budget climate that allowed them to move from plugging a deficit in fiscal 2004 to raising spending in fiscal 2005.
Overall state spending climbed by 4.1 percent, to $5.4 billion, for the new fiscal year from the previous budget cycle. Spending for K-12 education saw a more modest increase of 2 percent, rising to $2 billion.
The session marked the beginning of an initiative led by Gov. Brad Henry and the legislature to raise teachers’ salaries to the regional average by fiscal 2009.
The first phase of the plan, which goes into effect this fiscal year, will draw on $53 million in new spending to cover the health-insurance costs for K- 12 certified employees.
Under the second phase, from 2006 to 2009, the plan calls for bringing the salary for teachers from an average of $34,877 to the regional average of $39,136. The plan calls for raising the starting salary from $27,060 to $28,000.
The second phase will cost $197 million over four years, according to state estimates.
In another effort to improve teacher quality, the Oklahoma legislature added $1.4 million to the 2005 budget to finance 350 scholarships for teachers who want to seek certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. With the addition of 226 nationally certified teachers in fiscal 2004, Oklahoma now has 857 teachers with that designation.
Lawmakers also passed legislation that requires each public school to establish a “fit school advisory committee” to make recommendations on health education, physical education, and nutrition and health services.