Thursday, March 09, 2017

House Passes Unfunded Education Mandate

The Oklahoma State House passed HB 1114 on Tuesday by a vote of 92-7. The measure, authored by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow) and now co-authored by 56 other representatives, would give teachers a $6,000 pay raise phased in over three years.

Problem is, there is no funding. This is a completely unfunded mandate.

State Rep. Josh Cockroft, a member of House leadership, said this about the measure: "Since the appropriations process is not yet to the point to where we know where funds will come from to pay for this plan, this policy part was passed first." Essentially, we have to pass the bill before we find a way to fund it.

Passing a teacher pay raise is the popular thing to do right now. It's politically expedient. It has been one of the top three issues for the past two legislative sessions and election cycles, but with the budget shortfalls there has not been the necessary funding available.

Oklahoma is facing a shortfall this year of nearly $900M. The cost for the first-year pay raise of $1,000 is about $52.7M. The second-year phase (additional $2,000 raise) will cost about $158.7M, and the final phase (additional $3,000 raise) will be around $316M. Notice that the measure is back-loaded... much like the "savings" in federal legislation that never come to fruition.

Obviously, raising teacher pay is a laudable goal, but passing a pay raise with no funding is deceptive and irresponsible. It's akin to telling your children "Hey! We're taking you to DISNEY WORLD next week! Assuming I get a big surprise bonus at work tomorrow, which there's absolutely no indication that I will. But... DISNEY WORLD!"

Freshman State Rep Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) has been touting his HB 1115, which "would prohibit the Legislature from enacting new mandates for schools unless funding is provided." These two measures absolutely contradict each other.

Raising teacher pay is a nice goal, but it doing it without funding is misleading to constituents and especially to teachers. This bill appears to just be a way to say "I voted for a pay raise". If you're going to pass an unfunded pay raise, why stop at $6,000? Make it something big, like $10,000, or $25,000!

Legislators like to rail against unfunded education mandates. HB 1114 is a nice goal, but at this point, it's just another unfunded mandate.


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