Oklahoma: Parents Would Be Able To Donate Up To $1000 To Their Children’s Teachers Under  Proposed Legislation

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A policy that incentivizes parents to give their children’s teachers $1,000 is receiving backlash amid complaints that it would create disparities, engender partiality and urge parents rather than politicians to improve educator remuneration.

Supporters, meanwhile, promote the concept as a “outside-the-box” strategy to improve remuneration for the state’s greatest teachers.

House Bill 3351 would enable parents to make a tax-deductible contribution of $1,000 per child to their kid’s classroom teacher. The tax credit would be 100 percent deductible, but could not exceed $1,000 per kid each taxable year. The Oklahoma Tax Commission would have the ability to adopt the regulations required to manage the program. The organization also would be obliged to provide a procedure for a parent to discreetly make a gift.

A parliamentary budgetary study revealed that if only 1 percent of the parents of the 647,600 pupils enrolled in public schools paid $1,000 directly to teachers, it would cost the state around $6.5 million. If half of parents donated $10, then it would cost state coffers nearly $3.2 million.

Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, who introduced the proposal, intended that all gifts to teachers remain anonymous.

“Rewarding teachers with generous, anonymous donations is a commonsense option to recognize our many quality educators in a manner that meets the Oklahoma Standard,” he said in an email.

State Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, the Senate author, was unavailable for comment.

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, said he’s not opposed to anything that would assist teachers get more money, but he’s not convinced it’s the best way to do it because “it just opens up a lot of cans of worms.”

Rather than boosting possibilities for math, science or English instructors, Pemberton said he thinks that coaches will be the real beneficiaries. Although the measure would mandate the $1,000 presents go solely to classroom teachers, many coaches are also credentialed educators or physical education instructors. Some coaches, especially those who win, might collect as much as $65,000 in contributions if they educate 65 youngsters.

“I’m worried a lot of it will be bypassed via sports programs to basketball coaches, wrestling coaches, football coaches or maybe a band director,” he added.

Pemberton said there are also worries that if a parent contributes $1,000, they may expect a specific grade for their kid in return. And, he added the scheme might also drive parents who can’t afford it to pay instructors so that their kid isn’t the only one not paying.

“Public education is the business of the state,” Pemberton stated. “The state’s responsibility is to support public education. It’s not our job to expect parents to support education. If you want private education, you want to pay for private school that’s one thing, but public education, we should finance it.”

He said bill intends well, but hasn’t been completely thought through to handle the downsides that come with it.

Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said there are a lot of “holes in that bill, a lot of issues with it,” but recognized it would probably proceed.

The proposal decisively passed the state House primarily along party lines and is continuing to proceed through the state Senate.

Floyd said it would place educators in a “really difficult situation” of having to pick between wealthier suburban districts or lower-income urban and rural areas. She said educators working in the richest districts might possibly see their individual teacher wages soar by as much as $25,000 a year, while instructors who work in severely underprivileged regions would not.

“Frankly, there’s a lot of communities throughout this state where parents cannot afford to match those numbers,” Floyd said. “So I think we’re going to see some problems in the areas of the state throughout the state that just don’t have the resources and the parents don’t have the resources to match that.”

She added advocates say that there won’t be a mass flight to rich areas because teachers “have a passion for service.” But Floyd said it may not be good to depend on teachers’ willingness to accept monetary sacrifices for altruistic reasons.

“When we have a teacher shortage and teachers have greater freedom on where they go teach, why would they not go to a school where their compensation improves so that they can take care of their families?” she wondered.

State Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, who co-authored the proposal, said he doesn’t anticipate a major flight from lower-income sections of rural Oklahoma to affluent suburban districts. However, he recognized that there may be some flaws with the bill as well.

“You can find problems with everything that we do,” McBride said. “We’re just trying to think outside the box, find ways to get more money to teachers to spend in the classroom.”

McBride had submitted a legislation this year that would have provided every Oklahoma teacher a $1,000 stipend, but his bill never gained enough support to move.

He said Oklahoma has to do more for educators, and it’s critical to maintain that idea in the public spotlight.