OKLAHOMA CITY - Governor Kevin Stitt has delivered his first State of the State Address, with education taking center stage.
"We will set high standards. We will enact reforms. We will invest in the classroom," the governor said.
It's good news to the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), which steadily advocates for higher investment in the state's public education. Stitt brought the room to its feet with a proposal to address the state's teacher shortage.
"We are confronted with a nationwide teacher shortage," he said. "This is not a problem unique to our state, but Oklahoma was among the hardest hit. With recent revenue growth, I ask the legislature to bring our teachers to number one in our region in pay and benefits. This amounts to a $1,200 increase per teacher."
"We were glad to hear Governor Stitt come out and make public education a priority for our state and for our students," said OEA Vice-President Katherine Bishop. "$1,200 will not get us to the top of the region. That’s why we’re asking for a 3,000 teacher pay raise."
Bishop said the OEA is ready and willing to work with the governor and lawmakers to implement the changes necessary to better the state's educational landscape.
"Our goal is never a walkout," she said. "If our Together We're Stronger Year 2 Plan is not passed by April 1, we will have a day of action."
Similar advocacy was executed with walkouts in the recent past. But, Bishop said that is a plan they wish to avoid - though, at this point, what the day of action could look like remains in the air.
"There are a lot of things on the table. It can run the gamut on what we would be able to do," she said. "We stand ready that, if our members want to go further, we will do that as well."
While Stitt's proposal is less than they said the state's schools need, they remain optimistic about the working relationship with lawmakers on addressing any issues with funding education, especially as the state's new leader brought education center stage.
"This shows a true commitment to public schools here in Oklahoma - not just the schools but our students, an investment in their future," Bishop said. "We’re excited to work with the governor and the legislature, because it's going to take them all working together."
OEA President Alicia Priest also released the following response to the address:
"We’re glad Gov. Stitt wants to continue investing in Oklahoma public education and insists teachers are what students will remember most after they graduate.
We were honored when he held up OEA member Donna Gradel as an example of a great teacher. When he asked us to reimagine Oklahoma education, we thought of Donna’s example in meeting that vision. She is a highly qualified, certified teacher. That’s what we want for every public school classroom – a highly qualified, certified teacher.
It is positive that Stitt wants to make teacher pay top in the region, but $1,200 won’t get us there. We’re asking for a $3,000 teacher pay raise this year. At the same time, we can’t forget our support professionals, many of whom make just above minimum wage in very difficult jobs. We are still seeking a $2,500 raise for them. The OEA is also asking for $150 million for our classrooms, to help schools hire more teachers to lower classroom sizes and bring back AP, fine arts, world language and other dropped classes.
Over the next few weeks, we will have time to discuss details about how we get to the top, but today we are encouraged that the governor wants great things for our students. And we believe we have a legislature that still wants to improve on the progress we made last year in better funding public education."