Sunday, September 20, 2015

OK Lawmaker, Teacher Salaries Compared. Big Differences.

If you care about education, you are aware of the attacks by our Legislative leaders and their newspaper the Daily Disappointment Oklahoman on the straw man targets of ‘administrative costs’ and teacher salaries. Today’s front page blares out how overpaid our state Superintendents are, even breaking down their salaries to ‘per pupil’ costs.

It’s blatantly clear this will be the new fight when the Legislature begins its Session in February. Administrative costs, teacher salaries.  Those greedy educators who want more and more and more.

That got me to do teacher and Legislator salaries compare in Oklahoma? 

Let’s start with requirements. To be a Legislator, one must be at least 21, a voter, and live in the district from which one will run for 6 months. There is a $200 filing fee to be paid by the candidate.

To be a teacher (I used information from the OSDE site for alternative certification), one must have a bachelor’s degree and a major concentration in the subject one is planning to teach. One must pass two standardized tests, the OGET, which tests generally education knowledge, and the OSAT, the Oklahoma test of subject area concentration. These tests will cost from $65-$80 per test. The OPTE, another assessment, costs $140. One must be fingerprinted and pass a background test. That process will cost $59. There is a $50 processing fee to the OSDE to collect all the data. THEN one can apply for a job.

The Oklahoma Legislature meets once a year. After November elections, the Legislature meets to certify results. Then, yearly they meet from the first Monday in February to the last Friday in May. 85 days. Typically Fridays are not 'in session' days, so Legislators can attend to business at home. But for this blog, I will count each Friday as a work day.

Teachers in Oklahoma are contracted to teach or participate in professional development 185 days, or the hourly equivalent of 185 days. 

Both professions are expected to work beyond those hours and those days, taking care of constituents, participating in meetings, attending to problems and emergencies as they arise.

Oklahoma Legislators earn $38,400 per year for their service. This figure is in the top third of US Legislative salaries. Legislators can also earn $160 per diem for travel and expenses. I believe they can also claim mileage under some circumstances. I do not begrudge them a penny of their salaries and benefits…I know their job is difficult and demands sacrifices from their families. I know they often work long past regular office hours.  I am grateful for their service. But I point out with respect their salaries are some of the higher in the country.

Teachers, too, work long hours, during weekends, and during those enforced ‘vacations’ that are inserted into the school calendar for the convenience of families. Remember, none of those vacation days is considered a contract day. So each is unpaid vacation for teachers.

Teacher salaries in Oklahoma do not fare as well in national comparisons, traditionally occupying one of the bottom three positions. Legislators’ pay is near the top. Teachers’ pay is at the bottom. Not hype. Facts. Note that the article I linked here is two years old. And things are worse for teachers in our state.

I used the Norman Public Schools teacher salary schedule for my comparison, since I spent my entire Oklahoma career teaching in Norman. A beginning teacher in Norman, with a bachelor’s degree, a teacher who has taken the two tests, earned a degree, and who has passed the background investigation, will earn $32,343 in base pay. I’m not adding the benefits package, since that’s all ‘funny money’ – given, but never showing up in the paycheck.

An Oklahoma Legislator works for 85 paid days and earns $38,400. A beginning teacher must earn a degree, take the tests, and pay for the background study, and earns $32,343 in Norman, for 185 days.

An Oklahoma Legislator earns $451.76 per day, with the possibility of per diem and mileage.

A Norman beginning teacher earns $174.82  per contract day.

Both are expected to work beyond the work day and beyond the work calendar.

Now, let’s look at that ‘average’ Oklahoma teacher salary – the unicorn of $44,000. In Norman, a teacher with a bachelors degree will have to teach 24 years before his or her base pay is $44,081. Twenty-four years. At that point, a teacher’s daily pay would be $238.28…a little more than half a beginning Legislator’s daily salary.

At this point in my research, glass houses and stones flashed before my eyes. Well-paid Legislators who work fewer days than teachers might want to be changing the subject instead of telling teachers we are greedy .

Both Legislators and teachers can take on extra duties for more pay. I sponsored a club at Norman North, but was not compensated. At West Mid High, I sponsored the Cheers and Poms…I don’t remember my duty pay, but I think it averaged out to about $20 a month. The years I was department chair, I may have earned $100 extra.

Legislative leaders earn more for their extra duties also. The President Pro Tem and Speaker earn $17,932 above base pay and top leadership earns $12,364. I am appreciative of their service. I am supportive of their extra compensation. 

I wish Legislators approached educators with respect for the job we do, for the sacrifices our families make, for the extra hours we work. I wish Legislators acknowledged our unpaid contributions to our profession, our students, our classrooms. Instead, they sigh about ‘throwing money’ at education. They bemoan the budget crunch (the crunch they created with tax credits and tax cuts); they tell us to stop complaining.

We will continue to hear from policy makers and from the DOK that teachers are not underpaid, and that administrative costs are too high. They will not tell us that within administrative costs are classroom assistants, special education assistants, nurses, cafeteria workers, bus drivers. They won’t tell us that their own mandates have required schools to respond with more administrative costs. 

They will rattle the swords of consolidation. They will point fingers at those highly-paid Superintendents. But will they solve the real problems? Will they listen to educators? Will they loosen the strangle-hold of unfunded mandates? Will they address the teacher shortage with honesty? Will they work to retain our career teachers who make a difference with students and their families every day?

Speaker Hickman earns every penny of his $38,400 base pay, and his $17,932 as Speaker. I know he works long days and hours past the expectations of his job. I would love for him and his fellow Legislators to acknowledge educators’ contributions.

The DOK’s article today broke Superintendents’ pay down to a per-pupil figure to make their point that Superintendents in small districts are grossly overpaid.

What if we broke our Legislators’ pay down per vote cast on election day? 

Just a thought.


  1. Let's do the research on this, Claudia. Per vote. I will help

    1. Well, the Speaker's last election with an opponent garnered 9400, what WOULD that average out to be?

  2. All teachers in Oklahoma should report to work at the start of the contract day and leave at the end of it. No extra work off the clock. the state would soon realize that they get what they pay for.

  3. But then we are sat down in a room of our peers and advisors and have to answer for why our kids didn't pass their tests, why our lesson plans aren't up to par, why our classrooms are grossly unorganized, why we use class time to manage materials and lesson prep.... the list goes on! It's so unfair. They're not allowed to ask us to work past contract hours, but if I got caught doing any of the above things during contract hours (outside of my 3 days a week, 45 minute plan times) there would be hell to pay.

  4. Laura -- I've heard that before, and I get the temptation...It scares me to think of everything that wouldn't get done if I'd've done that. And Shannon, I'm so sorry. People should be helping us make teaching and learning more accessible, not less.