Budget & Tax , Education
Jonathan Small | March 6, 2018
Time for lawmakers to assert authority, reward teachers
Oklahoma lawmakers have grappled for years over the matter of boosting public school teacher compensation. The latest proposal, which included a host of new spending wishes that tried to attach themselves to the popular teacher pay raise issue, failed to pass the Legislature last month. But another plan to raise compensation still has a chance at passing. The idea would not increase taxes and is worthy of praise.
House Bill 3440 would fund annual cash bonuses for teachers using money from the Commissioners of Land Office (CLO). By any measure, CLO is a cash cow that can afford to directly benefit teachers. Naturally, the state agency will fight the proposal. Its officials seem intent on keeping this cash cow in the barn—their barn—on their terms.
CLO money already benefits public schools. Thus, extending the agency’s mission to directly fund teacher bonuses is apt. In 2017, CLO’s investment portfolio reached nearly $2.4 billion. That’s a lot of capital in a supposedly capital-starved state government. Dedicating more to teachers is practical, sensible, and doable.
CLO revenues in 2017 were $322.8 million, up from $87.6 million in 2016. The agency showered more money on K-12 schools in 2017 than it ever has, forking over $103.4 million. In addition, higher education got more than $35.9 million.
HB 3440, which has cleared the House Appropriations & Budget Committee, would direct some CLO funds to teacher bonuses. The amount would vary year-to-year based on the CLO portfolio’s performance. Administrators would not be eligible for bonuses. Included in the bill is a means of growing the portfolio’s size and restrictions that would protect money that’s already corralled for public education.
The CLO has a constitutional mandate to help fund public schools. Nothing says that CLO money can’t go directly to teachers. CLO managers mostly disagree over turf concerns. But as OCPA distinguished fellow Andrew Spiropoulos points out, “it is not good public policy to have ever-growing fiefdoms like the CLO or the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) whose managers believe that their operation, for all practical purposes, should not be subject to legislative control. And we wonder why people believe they have lost control of our government.”
Clearly, lawmakers should be able to direct how some of the CLO’s earnings are spent. It’s time for legislators to exercise oversight over CLO officials. Estimates vary on how much each teacher would get in any given year. But it’s clear they’d get more in bonuses than they’re getting now—without raising taxes and without threatening CLO’s core mission.
Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.