The State Board of Education took a step for teachers recently when it voted 4-3 to approve sending $18 million to the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System to cover half of the retirement offset.
Who was required to pay the offset became a matter of contention last summer when the legislature sent funding to the State Department of Education (SDE) without line-item instructions for how to spend the money. The SDE chose to not to allocate funds for the retirement credit, but instead sent the money to schools to cover an expected increase in health insurance rates.
A recent Attorney General’s opinion said the SDE is required to fund the offset whether the legislature instructs it to or not.
Health insurance rates did not increase as much as expected, and the SDE will now send money intended for schools to cover health insurance premiums to the TRS on behalf of Oklahoma teachers. In addition, the SDE voted to ask the Legislature for a supplemental appropriation to cover the remaining portion of the offset.
The Oklahoma Education Association has lobbied the SDE since July to fund the retirement offset, and now applauds the State Board’s decision. It was the Association’s belief that the cost could eventually fall to teachers and that the law clearly stated the offset is a responsibility of the state.
Stephen Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for School Administration, agreed with the OEA, telling the board that the TRS credit should be a priority at this time.
In her comments to the State Board, POE Executive Director Ginger Tinney encouraged the board members to fund health insurance instead of the retirement offset.
Thanks goes to State Superintendent Sandy Garrett, who broke a 3-3 tie vote on the proposal to send the money to the TRS. Also voting “yes” for the proposal were Betsy Mabry, of Enid; Gail Foresee, Shawnee; and Gayle Miles-Scott, Oklahoma City.
OEA President Becky Felts is encouraging all OEA members and their colleagues to contact their local legislators and encourage them to approve the request for a supplemental appropriation to fully fund the offset. The legislature opens its spring 2011 session on Feb. 7.