What’s up in Texas? Teacher pay is about to be.

The good news for Oklahoma teachers: Gov. Kevin Stitt is paying attention and hasn’t forgotten his promise to give Oklahoma the highest teacher pay in the region.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the Texas Senate unanimously approved a $5,000-a-year teacher pay raise recently. If you accept the Morning News’ reporting that the average base teacher pay south of the Red River is “about $53,000,” a $5,000 raise would put the Texas average at about $58,000 a year.

The measure isn’t a done deal and isn’t without its political challenges moving forward, including those who want the money used for merit pay raises, not a general increase.

But it’s hard to imagine that a unanimous Senate vote in March doesn’t somehow lead to a big pay bump in July.

The Texas Senate has earmarked about $6 billion over the state’s two-year budgeting cycle for new public school funding. In other words, Texas is getting ready to increase school funding by about as much as Oklahoma appropriates for its entire state government on an annual basis.

When I asked the governor’s office how that news fit with plans to give Oklahoma teachers a $1,200 raise, which previously was touted as a means of giving Oklahoma teachers the highest average pay in the region, I got an interesting response.

“Our goal is to get to No. 1 this year,” Stitt spokeswoman Donelle Harder told me. “We are closely monitoring what comes out of Texas, and the governor is focused on continuing to improve teacher pay as we work to right-size state government and the budgeting process.”

The idea that a $1,200 raise will do the trick is essentially a statistical fiction.

The National Education Association prepares the gold standard report on average teacher pay by state. The most recent report reflected 2017 numbers, when Oklahoma’s average was $45,292, 50th out of 51.

Add the $6,100 pay raises funded by the Legislature last year: $51,392.

Add another $1,200: $52,592.

That puts us $17 ahead of the NEA’s number for Texas and in first place for the region. Of course, that’s comparing what our teachers will earn next year to what Texas teachers earned in 2017.

If it’s been a long time since you got a $6,100 raise or even a $1,200 one, there are two important points to remember.

First, the $6,100 pay raise was the first the state had funded in more than a decade.

Second, if there was a social intent behind a big pay raise, it was to elevate the relative pay status of teachers within Oklahoma society. Teachers should move ahead of a bunch of people or else the pay raise didn’t work.

A few years ago, state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was pointing out that within three or four years of working at Chipotle restaurants, people were earning more than Oklahoma teachers with doctorates and 25 years of experience.

If we don’t change that, we’ll just have a bunch of well-educated burrito supervisors. If we do get our teachers out of the Chipotle zone, we still will face competition from Texas, which has successfully been luring Oklahoma teachers for years with better pay.

Last year’s teacher pay raise was the essential first step toward adequate state funding of public schools, but it isn’t the final word. Another big bump this year is also important, but teachers who moved south have always said there was more to the issue than pay. Respect was a word they used a lot.

How do we show respect beyond paying teachers better than the Chipotle crew? Next on that agenda should be the also expensive challenge of making sure there are enough highly qualified teachers in Oklahoma classrooms to do the job appropriately.

Oklahoma has the highest teacher-student ratio in the region, according to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. The state would need 5,000 additional teachers to reach the regional average. Back-of-the-envelope school math: 5,000 teachers at $58,000 apiece = $290 million a year. That assumes we catch up with Texas.

At the same time we need to start talking about pay raises for librarians, counselors and all the other professionals who make schools work right. Respect.

It’s not easy to keep up with the Joneses, and we live next door to a state that includes Jerry Jones, the biggest Jones of them all.

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