Column by State Rep. Lundy Kiger
Oklahoma has some of the brightest students not only in the U.S., but in the world. Without education, we as a society will cease to exist, or we’ll exist at levels far below our capabilities. Without a prepared and educated work force we will also lose businesses and industries, which will lead to fewer future jobs for the next generation.
Education in Oklahoma takes the larger share of state tax revenues, and most would agree that education is not performing exactly where everyone would like, but this problem didn’t occur overnight and it won’t be fixed quickly either.
But, the 57th Legislature in the House is addressing many of the bigger funding issues. Still, there is much more to do for our schools to become more effective in educating our students.
The biggest problem we have in education today, in my opinion, is the shortage of qualified teachers in the state. The second biggest problem is how we approach educating our children as a whole. We’re leaving out many important components such as “time on task” that has resulted in many students scoring in the D and F ranges on required state testing.
We have many very qualified people that could enter the education profession and who could gain the right credentials, but without competitive wages and benefits we just aren’t getting people into this industry, leaving thousands of jobs opened for less qualified people.
A teacher pay raise is about one thing and one thing only, we need qualified teachers in the classroom to help reduce the nearly 3,000 teaching our children under emergency teaching certificates.
Additional pay raises and keeping up with regional averages also will help stop the outflow of teachers to neighboring states. The House passed House Bill 1780 that included a $1,200 teacher pay raise early in the session and sent the bill to the Senate. The full Senate has yet to pass this bill. Once they do, it will have to return to the House before it can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.
Currently, I’m still not seeing the same level of overall commitment and understanding of the importance of fully funding public education needed.
Along with a teacher pay raise of $1,200 in HB1780, the House also has passed additional legislation for our children and educators.
- House Bill 2470 would increase the “in lieu of” amount for teachers that opt out of receiving the flexible benefit allowance for health care from $69 to $300.
- House Bill 1781 would allow school districts the flexibility to pay student teachers.
- House Bill 1360 would allow National Board Certified Teachers to apply for a $1,000 grant toward certificate renewal.
- House Bill 2521 creates the Oklahoma Educator Loan Repayment Program that will assist classroom teachers with student loan forgiveness.
- House Bill 2502 provides a $1,000 tax credit for teachers that purchase supplies for their classrooms or fees related to the teacher certification process.
- House Bill 2645 creates a one-time incentive bonus up to $5,000 for certified teachers who return to public school classrooms.
- House Bill 2646 requires the Department of Education to set criteria for designating schools as in need of intervention.
There are additional bills that have been passed out of the House to assist public schools and our students, but there are also other areas in need of attention.
The House fully supports pay increases for support professionals, funding for the classroom, and education reforms including a minimum number of instructional hours in the classroom of 1,080. I believe we will achieve success on each of these before we adjourn in May.
To help ensure the $1,200 pay raise for teachers passed by the House is included in this year’s appropriations, the House amended Senate Bill 441 in committee to include the $1,200 teacher pay raise. We also amended this bill and moved off of a required 180 days of attendance, giving school districts the options to decide how many days they will attend to reach the 1,080 house of instructional time. The House will hear SB441 next week, and then this bill will then go back to the Senate for approval or rejection.
To move Oklahoma forward in the right direction we need to fully fund public education for the benefit of our children and the future.
Now is the time to contact your local senator and the governor’s office and ask them to fully fund public education.
State Rep. Lundy Kiger represents House District 3 in Leflore County in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.