The bipartisan organization Oklahoma’s Children: Our Future is collaborating with University of Oklahoma President David Boren to raise Oklahoma’s K-12 public school teachers’ salaries. The petition needs more than 124,000 signatures to be added to the voting ballot in November. The movement will add a one cent sales tax to all state spending.
“I don’t think it necessarily should be tied to teacher pay increases. I think it should be going to supplemental education funding,” said Jason Blasingame, a psychology teacher and football coach at Midwest City High School.
Oklahoma K-12 teachers on average make $31,000 annually, which is significantly lower than surrounding states such as Kansas, where teachers make on average $48,000 annually. Kansas’ cost of living averages approximately 1.8 percent higher than Oklahoma’s. Because of lower salaries, districts state-wide are struggling to keep teaching staff full.
“You almost feel stupid for not leaving,” Blasingame said.
The movement is projected to generate $615 million a year to add a $5,000 bonus to teachers’ salaries across the state. ore than 200 volunteers and paid staff are standing on the sidewalks of busy streets and in recreational areas to get as many of the public’s signatures as possible.
“They’ve stripped away everything they can from our classrooms to be able to save money,” Blasingame said while looking around his classroom. The walls are covered with various student illustrations of different areas of the brain, but the chipped paint and scraped walls are still notice-able underneath. “I guarantee these are the same desks I sat in when I was here 25 years ago.”
Blasingame graduated from MCHS in 1996. He has two sons, one freshman and one senior, who are following in his footsteps. Oklahoma is No. 1 in budget cuts to education and No. 49 in individualized pupil investment.
“Our children are worth every penny,” Boren said in an interview with NewsOK.
Upon getting the amount of signatures needed, if this movement is passed, K-12 public schools will not be the only beneficiary. Higher education would receive nearly $120 million each year to help hinder the rise of tuition costs. Another $20 million would be sent
to Oklahoma CareerTech to support efforts for workforce readiness and industry certifications which will lead to more than 85,000 jobs immediately available to those who are qualified. Because of the “education emergency,” many primary and secondary teachers left their positions, and even the state, because of low salaries.
Oklahoma is currently ranked 43rd in the U.S. for teacher’s average salary. As for Blasingame, he does not leave because he is deeply rooted within the school from which he graduated, and now teaches and coaches at 25 years later.
“This is home,” he said. “These kids are important, they are the future.”When asked how the raise could change his lifestyle, he said it will not change much at all. “I get more out of being here and interacting with the students. I’m paid by things other than money.”
Campaigners have until May 16 to collect the signatures needed to reach the next step in the approval process. Anyone interested in signing the petition remotely can find campaigners in general areas of Rose State’s campus