Survey: Oklahomans support higher teacher salaries

Tuesday, February 3rd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An overwhelming number of Oklahomans support raising teacher salaries to the regional average and almost as many are in favor of fully funding teacher health insurance benefits, according to the results of a statewide survey.

The survey, made public Tuesday by the Oklahoma Commission on Educational Administration, indicates that Oklahomans are ready to spend more money to improve the state's public schools, said state Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett.

"We must absolutely step up to the plate," Garrett said.

She said school systems in bordering states that pay higher salaries are recruiting experienced teachers from Oklahoma, which ranks 48th nationally in teacher salaries.

"Other states have done a very good job of recruiting our teachers," Garrett said.

Gov. Brad Henry has placed improving teacher salaries high on his list of priorities this year. Henry's budget includes $114 million for education improvements, with most of the money set aside to pay teacher health care costs.

The plan is part of a $244 million, five-year program to raise teacher pay to the level of bordering states.

Oklahoma's average teacher salary is $34,877, well below the regional average of $38,527, according to education officials. The national average is $44,683.

The survey, conducted by Newton Marketing & Research, is based on telephone interviews with 500 Oklahoma adults who represented all 77 counties. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

Among the survey's findings:

--Seventy-five percent believe adequate teacher pay is a "very or fairly serious" problem facing public schools in their community, while 74 percent said getting quality teachers was difficult.

--Fifty-eight percent of respondents believe that the quality of education is related to the amount of money spent on students.

--Seventy-one percent favored passage of a statewide lottery proposal to fund education and 69 percent support cutting spending from other areas of government. Fifty-eight percent support a new one-cent sales tax for education and 42 percent favor increasing income taxes.

Survey participants were asked how they would vote on several issues involving public schools.

Eighty-seven percent said they favor raising teacher raises to meet the regional average, and 79 percent would approve fully funding teacher health insurance benefits.

The survey's finding amount to "a call to action" to lawmakers to pass new funding measures for public education, said Charlotte Edwards, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Career and Technology Education.

Gains in funding for elementary and secondary schools will benefit the state's colleges and universities, said Kathryn Jones, executive director of the Higher Education Alumni Council of Oklahoma.

"The success of common education is crucial to the success of higher education," Jones said.