The Oklahoma Senate wants to change the House’s education plan by further raising teacher pay and adding an income cap to tax breaks for home and private school families, setting up a potential standoff and putting Speaker Charles McCall’s threats of killing any education priorities to the test.
McCall, R-Atoka, gave the Senate an ultimatum earlier this month: hear the House’s education package “as is,” or any Senate education bills will die in the House.
Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, did not take kindly to the threats at the time, calling them “asinine” and said that if the package remains the same, it will fail in the Senate as the bills don’t have the support necessary to pass.
On Monday, the Senate significantly changed the House package in committee.
On House Bill 1935, also known as the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, the Senate added an income cap of $250,000 to qualify. The Senate wants to increase the private school refundable tax credit to $7,500 per student up from the original $5,000 per student and lower the homeschool tax credit to $1,000 per family down from the original $2,500 per child.
The bill is expected to cost $98.7 million in its first year, down significantly from the $300 million estimation of the House’s version.
On House Bill 2775, the Senate wants to increase the across-the-board teacher pay raise to between $3,000 and $6,000, up from $2,500, and introduce a pay structure based on years of experience, education and accreditation. The Senate bill would also allow districts to give annual bonuses to the top 10% of eligible teachers and support staff.
Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, has worked this session to implement some sort of merit-based pay to reward the best and brightest teachers and support staff, he said.
The bonuses would be capped at $5,000.
The bill is expected to cost $530 million, with $500 million going into the public school funding formula and $30 million to a revolving fund for teacher pay raises. The bill passed with bi-partisan support out of the Senate Education and Appropriation Committees on Monday.
“Today we made the largest single investment in public education history in the state of Oklahoma,” said Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, one of the bill’s co-authors.
Making these changes shores up the package’s support in the Senate, but puts its ultimate passage and other education bills in jeopardy.
Treat said he talked with Gov. Kevin Stitt and McCall earlier Monday about his plan to amend the legislation and hopes McCall will see the bigger picture and pass the education bills.
“I hope that we will put historic funding for public education and school choice ahead of those types of claims,” Treat said. “I don’t know what they will do, but I know that he cares deeply about these two issues and I trust that he’ll do the right thing.”
A representative from McCall’s office said the Speaker is still reviewing the changes. On Friday, Stitt said he believes “cooler heads are going to prevail” in negotiations between the Senate and the House. His office declined to comment on the changes today.