OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The Oklahoma State Senate’s top Republicans on education unveiled their plans to improve Oklahoma’s public schools with more than a dozen new bills filed totaling more than half of a billion dollars in new spending.
Senate Education Chairman Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) alongside new Senate Education Appropriations Chair Ally Seifried (R-Claremore) and Senate Education Vice Chair Kristen Thompson (R-Edmond) announced their support for a series of bills totaling $517 million dollars that will focus on recruiting and retaining teachers in addition to reforming how public education works both in the early K-3rd grade years and high school years.
“I’ve broken this plan into four pillars: recruit, retain, reward, and reform,” Pugh said.
In addition to new scholarships for college students training to be teachers who then must serve a certain period of time in the Oklahoma public education system, Pugh proposed allowing other states teacher certifications to be accepted by the Oklahoma Department of Education, a teacher’s minimum starting salary of $40,000/year, and giving public school teachers 12-weeks of paid maternity leave.
Currently, Oklahoma public school teachers do not have maternity leave, but their counterparts in other states do. A bill was proposed last session, but it failed to become law.
“This is one of the most pro-life policies being proposed this session,” Pugh said about maternity leave.
Because there is automatic financial and professional hardship by a teacher that gets pregnant, Seifried said a friend of hers is having to choose between being a mom or being a teacher.
“Teachers are having children, as they should, and then they just don’t come back,” Seifried said.
On the education policy side, Pugh is proposing the combination of the virtual charter school board with the state charter school board, eliminating the attendance records from a school’s A-F rating given by the state, more money for proven programs that enhance K-12 reading education, and a change to how high schoolers are viewed as they prepare to graduate.
“There are two pillars right now with high schoolers,” Pugh said about students who choose to go to college and career tech, and everyone else.
“There needs to be three,” he said. “College and career techs are completely different things.”
Pugh said all high schools students would have to meet the same standards no matter if they were going to college, career tech, or have other plans in life, but they could still get tailoring on their specific life paths especially on STEM jobs under his proposals.
The plan presented by Pugh does not include vouchers also being called education savings accounts (ESAs) and school choice. It was very heavy on turning around Oklahoma public schools.
“Since last summer I’ve had conversations with superintendents and others across the state, and these are their ideas,” he said. “This is what they say we need.”
However, Pugh said ESAs and school choice measures would likely be brought up by other members in the House and Senate which have also been championed by Governor Kevin Stitt and new State Superintendent Ryan Walters. Pugh said he respects those proposals should they come to his committee, and they will be properly examined and debated.
He also said his proposals as written are likely not to be one hundred percent what ends up on the governor’s desk.
“We will have some meaningful conversations over the next four months on many ideas,” Pugh said. “Even some of my ideas I present now are not what we will end up with by the end of May.”
All legislation that will be considered for the upcoming 2023 regular legislative session are due by Thursday January 18th. If anyone is proposing anything with vouchers, ESAs, or school choice, they have yet to be published as of the time of this writing.
State Senate Pro-Tempore Greg Treat (R-Edmond) praised Pugh’s efforts though he has championed voucher programs in the past.
“I appreciate the thoughtful efforts Sen. Pugh put into his ideas. His agenda this session is ambitions, and I hope Sen. Pugh unveiling his ideas sparks a discussion with others on how to improve education in the state,” Treat said in a statement. “While individual members will have their own suggestions on how to improve upon his ideas, it is a great place to start as we put our children, their parents and hardworking teachers first.”
Pugh’s bills as filed are:
SB 529: $15 million to create Oklahoma Teacher Corps and provide scholarships to students who enter Oklahoma Colleges of Education, graduate and receive teaching certificate. Those who pass their program must commit four years of service in a Title I school or pay scholarship amount back to state.
SB 522: $5 million for a mentorship program. This bill will provide $500 stipends for mentors of new teachers. The goal is to pair every new teacher (both to the career or new to the district) with a mentor.
SB 361: Create a multistate teacher licensure compact. Be the first state to recognize teacher licensure reciprocity in a multistate compact. Recognize professional experience and licensure from other states, and not lose teachers because of bureaucratic paperwork that discourages immediate entry into the workforce upon moving to Oklahoma.
SB 364: $25 million for paid maternity leave – Will give teachers who have been with a district for at least one year 12 weeks of maternity leave. With a career field that is 76% female, this will allow new mothers to take time away to be with their newborns and return to the classroom as able. Solves a key workforce issue, is pro-life, and does not force a new parent to choose between career and family.
SB 523: $50 million for school safety. This bill will provide the Oklahoma School Security Institute with $50 million in grant funding to allocate by application process to meet unique and individual district needs for added security personnel, infrastructure, technology, training.
SB 525: $1 million for credentialing would reimburse each school district to pay for recertifying each teachers’ credentials if they are asked to gain additional credentials.
SB 482: $241 million for teacher pay raise. The bill would provide a teacher pay raise. Moves starting teacher pay to $40,000 with a $3,000 raise at entry through four years. Years five-through-nine will receive $4,000; 10-14 years of experience will receive $5,000; and a teacher with 15+ years of experience will receive $6,000.
SB 531: Removed attendance metric on A-F report card and replace with school climate survey, which includes parents, students, and teachers/staff.
SB 527: Puts more money toward kindergarten through third grade reading proficiency, with the ultimate goal being 100% reading proficiency for kids entering the fourth grade. Increases K-3 weights, special education weights, transportation weight, and gifted/talented, and socio-economic disadvantaged weights.
*K-3 100% literacy rate. The last round of NAEP scores showed Oklahoma at 25% ELA assessments.
SB 523: Recognize that learning takes place in non-traditional settings and allow for credit to include internships, externships, part-time jobs, or other non-classroom activities that directly contribute to learning and college or career advancement.
SB 516: $1.5 million to reform charter schools. This bill would combine the virtual charter school board and charter school board. Add stricter accounting requirements, financial controls, and reporting criteria. Require any authorizer fee be expended on charter school oversight, provide training for charter school authorizers, and prevent authorizer ‘shopping’.
SB 359: $60 million in Funding Formula – Move the funding formula ad valorem dollars to account for previous year actuals and not projected. All chargeables in the funding formula are based on actual numbers except for ad valorem dollars, that is based on a projection. This also accounts for potential ad valorem protests, which can withhold ad valorem dollars despite projected incoming money. Would predominantly protect rural schools.
SB 520: Build three graduation tracks to include college, career, and core. Require four years of math and science for college track to increase STEM preparedness. Recognize that a career and core track can still pursue college and concurrent enrollment. Address Oklahoma’s lagging STEM standards and help build modern high-tech workforce. Opportunity to leverage many partnerships across private and public sector to include local businesses, higher education, career tech and more.
*Funding request to move to common Student Information System and update SDE accounting system $11 million – provide SDE and all school districts with technology upgrade to ensure seamless and standardized date entry system. Will also allow SDE to track how schools spend weighted dollars. For example, K-3 funding should be spent directly on K-3 students. There are federal requirements on funding but no such requirements on tracking accountability and transparency of state dollars in funding formula.
©2023 Cox Media Group