Last month on the blog, we talked about Kansas and how harmful right-wing tax policy there had ruined the state’s budget and threatened public pensions and other critical state services. A similar situation is happening in Oklahoma. Just like in Kansas, a right-wing governor, working with a conservative-dominated legislature, passed massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Now, the state is experiencing a revenue crisis and cutting deeply into state spending, especially education spending. While Oklahoma faces a growing teacher shortage, some right-wing lawmakers are proposing a harmful solution: gutting Oklahoma’s teacher pensions.
Back in March, NPPC released a report showing how defined benefit pensions can help alleviate the severe teacher shortage in Oklahoma. Public school teachers in Oklahoma and nationwide value the security and reliability of pensions and, therefore, pensions serve as a valuable recruitment and retention tool. This is an especially useful tool when education budgets are continually being cut and teachers are struggling with low pay.
Many schools in Oklahoma have already started the new school year and the teacher shortage has actually gotten worse than a year ago. According to a statewide survey conducted earlier this month, 2800 public school jobs have been lost to budget cuts, including 1500 teaching positions. The same survey from last year found about 1000 teaching positions had been eliminated. Despite cutting so many teaching jobs, the state still needs 500 teachers for unfilled positions and the state continues to rely on emergency teacher certifications to fill gaps.
While Oklahoma grapples with the impact of a downturn in energy markets and the effects of massive tax cuts, some anti-pension ideologues continue to push to force Oklahoma’s teachers into risky and unreliable 401(k)-style plans. Doing this would only exacerbate Oklahoma’s increasingly severe teacher shortage since it would remove a valuable recruitment and retention tool. Oklahoma’s political leaders need to realize that stabilizing the state’s budget, not harming teachers’ retirement security, is the true answer to the state’s teacher shortage.