Stitt says he kept his education promises | New

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When Kevin Stitt started the campaign trail in 2018, education was very much on the minds of voters. Thousands of Oklahoma teachers had taken to the state Capitol to strike, closing many schools for 10 days to draw attention to school funding needs.

The teacher walkout this spring brought major changes: an average salary increase of $6,000 for Oklahoma teachers — the first increase in nearly a decade — plus millions in new education funding .

And in his wake, Stitt, as a gubernatorial candidate, promised to improve education and make Oklahoma “one of the top 10 states.”

Now, four years later, Oklahoma Watch looks back on those promises and those results. Oklahoma Watch interviewed Stitt by phone on September 30. He also visited the Oklahoma Watch newsroom for an interview on October 13.

His Democratic challenger for governor, Joy Hofmeister, has had a major influence on education policy as superintendent of public instruction for the past eight years.

Teacher salaries

One of Stitt’s key education promises was to make Oklahoma’s average teacher salary the highest in the region.

Although National Education Association data shows Oklahoma is still short, Stitt says it’s a promise kept based on adjustments for the cost of living and the tax burden.

In 2018, Oklahoma’s average teacher salary ranked third in the region after the $6,000 increase. Stitt approved another raise in his first year in office, allocating $59 million for an average raise of $1,220.

That put Oklahoma’s average pay for a classroom teacher at $54,096 in 2021-22, the latest data available. This includes pension and health insurance premiums, benefits valued at about $16,900 a year, or about one-third of a teacher’s total compensation.

Oklahoma ranks fourth among surrounding states by this measure and 34th in the nation. Colorado, Texas and New Mexico reported higher teacher pay, meaning the state lost ground under Stitt.

Stitt says he achieved his goal.

“Our numbers show we’re number one in the seven-state area, adjusted for cost of living,” Stitt said. “It’s something we’re really proud of.”

He cites rankings from a report by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, which adjusted teachers’ salaries for the cost of living and tax burden, moving Oklahoma to 21st nationally. But that essentially ranks the “competitiveness” of teacher compensation in Oklahoma.

Hofmeister, in his agency’s latest budget request, proposed a teacher salary increase of $5,000, bringing the state average to just over $59,000. The state Board of Education approved the proposal and it is now moving to the Legislative Assembly.

“It’s a matter of staying competitive,” she said. “We made great strides when the Legislative Assembly approved back-to-back salary increases for teachers, but it’s not a one-time process. Other states continued to raise teacher salaries.

Recruitment, retention of teachers

Candidate Stitt said he wants the state to provide up to $5,000 in matching funds for signing bonuses for new and returning teachers. A statewide effort was unsuccessful, but many school districts are offering bonuses.

However, Stitt has endorsed several 2022 initiatives to address teacher recruitment and retention. He approved legislation creating the Inspired to Teach program, which provides stipends to students who agree to teach in Oklahoma for multiple years. The state is spending about $17 million on the program, which began this summer.

And in this year’s State of the State Address, Stitt announced a plan for “our best teachers” to earn more than $100,000. He signed legislation creating the program under Bill 4388, but there is no money for it yet.

The Legislative Assembly considered two versions of the bill, approving one requiring lottery collections of at least $75 million a year before funds would be available for the program. The fund will not reach the threshold this year.

Stitt said he would have preferred the program to be appropriate, or at least to have the cap on lottery funds lowered, so funding would have been available sooner.

“One hundred percent we want to fund this,” he said, adding that it’s the job of the Legislative Assembly to determine state spending. “It’s my job to advocate and tell them what Oklahomans need to be in the Top 10. But sometimes they don’t do exactly what I want.”

{span style=”font-size: 1.17em;”}Education funding{/span}Stitt says he’s made record investments in education without raising taxes. The tax increases were approved by his predecessor, Governor Mary Fallin, as a teacher walkout loomed.

Total state dollars allocated to education have increased during his tenure, with more than $3 billion allocated each year since 2020. Several education budget line items have begun receiving full funding in Stitt’s framework, including the Textbook Allocation and the Reading Sufficiency Act, which provides student support and services. who are likely to stay in third year.

But one area that could create a major drain on education funding is school vouchers, which subsidize private school tuition with public funds. Stitt changed his stance on the good ones. At a 2018 candidate forum, he said “I’m not for the good guys” (although he said he supports charter schools, private Christian schools, and homeschooling.)

This year, it has made school vouchers a mainstay of its education platform.

“I’m going to choose that parent and let them make that choice, if they think it’s a good place for the kids, and not a bureaucrat,” he said.

A proposal earlier this year was narrowly defeated in the state Senate; it was estimated to cost the state between $119 and $162 million.

This is a question of education where Stitt and Hofmeister are squarely opposed. Hofmeister repeatedly called the voucher plan a “rural school killer”. This would dilute the available education funding pot, reducing funding for all schools – even those in areas where there are no private schools – unless the legislature approves additional funding to cover the costs. costs.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501©(3) corporation whose mission is to produce in-depth, investigative journalism on public policy and quality of life issues facing the state. .

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