Oklahoma school teachers could benefit from income tax exemption

OKLAHOMA CITY – Proposals at the Legislature will, if passed in both chambers and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin, benefit Sooner State school teachers. However, at least one legislator would prefer to limit any tax break by excluding both public charter school teachers and private school teachers.

Senator AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie, and Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, want to create an income tax exemption for all Oklahoma teachers in pre-K to 12th grade programs.

In a March 18 commentary for The Oklahoman, the women wrote, “This will provide a boost in take-home pay for teachers while efforts are made to address compensation challenges. Let’s remove this barrier to recruiting and retaining the best and brightest in an industry ” teaching ” that plays a significant role in the prosperity of our great state.”

In it’s present form, the Osborn-Griffin legislation — Senate Bill 624 — specifies, “For taxable years beginning after December 31, 2015, there shall be exempt from taxable income one hundred percent (100%) of any income earned during the taxable year for a taxpayer who: a. is under contract as a classroom teacher for the entirety of the calendar year in a public or private school serving children from prekindergarten through grade twelve, or b. is employed as a paraprofessional providing classroom support, direct care for special education students, tutoring or other direct support for classroom instruction for the entirety of the calendar year in a public or private school serving children from prekindergarten through grade twelve.”

The relevant portion of the proposed law concludes, “For the purpose of this paragraph, such income shall only include that which is earned pursuant to the employment specified in sub-paragraphs a and b of this paragraph.” The tax exemption would apply only to the first $40,000 in annual income for teachers.

As for State Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, he supports an income tax exemption limited to certain educators.

A Democratic staff release noted he believes “the state should provide school teachers with a financial incentive to remain in Oklahoma even though surrounding states offer more money.” 

Perryman pointed to incentive programs aiming to keep doctors in rural areas, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) educational incentive at Tinker Air Force Base, and incentives aiming to encourage in-migration to counties in the state which have experienced population decline.

Perryman’s proposed amendment to Senate Bill 20 would specify the exemption would apply to any teacher “employed in an instructional capacity by a public school district located within this state.” 

 “Senate Bill 20 in its present form passed the upper chamber on Feb. 25 and cleared the House Common Education Committee on March 17. The measure covers certification procedures for teachers who move to Oklahoma from elsewhere.

Perryman garnered television news coverage in making the case for his proposal this past week.

However, in response to questions from CapitolBeatOK, he specified through a member of the House media staff that his proposal to create an income tax exemption for teachers would not include public charter school teachers:

“Charter school teachers would not be included. Although their supporters typically claim they are public schools, charter schools, as a general rule, do not employ public school teachers, and their schools are exempt from many of the requirements that apply to public schools.”

As for private school teachers, CapitolBeatOK was told, “Private school teachers? No. Their wages are an issue between them and their school’s governing board.”