Republican Gov. Mary Fallin called for a $20 million funding increase for higher education and teacher pay raises in her state of the state address Monday. Fallin said one of her goals was to improve the workforce and education in Oklahoma.
“As of August 31, 2016, there were more than 71,000 open jobs in the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “Of these open jobs, about 18,000 were critical occupations, such as engineers, teachers, nurses, chemists, accountants and truck drivers. Therefore, I am providing $20 million for higher education programs.”
Fallin, making her seventh state of the state address, said a permanent pay raise for public school teachers “must be done.” After voters rejected State Question 779, which would have earmarked a $5,000 pay raise for public school teachers, Fallin said she would work with legislators to find a way to fund teacher pay raises.
Fallin’s budget calls for a $3,000 pay increase. “And we can do it without raising the state sales tax rate to the highest level in the nation,” the governor said. “Let’s act on a permanent pay raise for our public school teachers. It is what the public and families want.”
Fallin said restoring five day school weeks would be a top priority in this year’s session. In her address, the governor said a thriving economy must have a skilled workforce, which “starts with good teachers in the classrooms providing our children a quality education five days a week.”
Fallin also said she would create a task force to review the state education funding formula, which will evaluate funding sources and analyze the K-12 system. “Just as we must fix our own state budget structural issues, we must do the same with the K-12 education system,” she said.
The governor also called on lawmakers to modernize the state’s sales tax and use exemptions and increase funding to the state Department of Corrections by $20 million.
House minority leader Rep. Scott Inman held a press conference after Fallin’s address, outlining the Democratic Party’s views on Fallin’s budget plan.
“It’s not all about opposition. We were pleased with the governor’s statements in some areas, including criminal justice reform, and the fact that the governor highlighted teacher pay raises,” Inman said.
“However, the governor failed to lay out how to fund a teacher pay raise, and if she’s going to pay for a teacher pay raise by raising taxes on middle class families, she’s going to find some opposition and pushback from the house Democratic caucus.”
Fallin’s address kicked off the beginning of the first session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature.