Hofmeister: Proposed legislation would raise teacher pay, revive system

Nathan ThompsonJournal-Capital
Hofmeister: Proposed legislation would raise teacher pay, revive system

Several pieces of legislation have been proposed this legislative session that specifically deal with education in Oklahoma.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister visited Pawhuska on Friday to visit with teachers, students, administrators and community members. She sat down exclusively with the Journal-Capital to discuss some of the bills that state lawmakers have introduced that impact public education.

“There has been something like 600 bills written this year that deal with the educational crisis in Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said. “I think roughly 175 bills are still out there and alive, but our legislators understand that we have to do something to help retain the best teachers and revive Oklahoma’s education system.”

Hofmeister said she understands that funding some changes will be a challenge this year, and that next year’s state budget will be even more challenging. The state of Oklahoma is facing a $611 million budget shortfall for this year, and some cuts are expected to affect multiple state agencies.

With that understanding, Hofmeister is continuing to work with state lawmakers to raise teacher pay under a plan that would increase compensation by $5,000 over five years and add five additional days to the school year. House Bill 1822 authored by Rep. Lee Denny, R-Cushing, would accomplish that. The bill passed a subcommittee, but stalled in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The committee is chaired by Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville.

Even though the bill stalled, Hofmeister said that she has been working with Sears to come up with a plan to have a version of the bill progress to the full House this legislative session. As chair of the Appropriations Committee, Sears has the power to bring measures to the House floor at any time during the session. Hofmeister is hopeful that the bill will be brought back up.

“We are continuing to look to find a way, but it will require the State Department of Education to make severe cuts to our own budget and find a way to provide some money as a good faith effort that we are making sacrifices,” Hofmeister said. “Other legislators on the Appropriations Committee are part of a team of people that are also trying to find a way. This is probably something that will not be resolved until the end of the legislative session.”

According to Hofmeister, she has worked non-stop with her staff to evaluate the Department of Education’s budget to make sure money is being well spent.

“I have challenged my staff to look for $24 million in areas that we could save and perhaps repurpose that money in other areas of education, but there are some pieces of legislation that I support that would save taxpayer money off the top,” Hofmeister said.

One area that Hofmeister strongly supports is reducing end of instruction testing and replacing it with something like the ACT. A bill written by Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, would do exactly that. Senate Bill 707, which has passed committee and was expected to heard on the state Senate floor on Monday, would stop the end-of-instruction testing schedule that is currently done in Oklahoma schools and replace them with the ACT.

“I’ve been working with Sen. Ford on this and I am excited. I am optimistic that it will pass,” Hofmeister said. “We need to take proactive steps to make sure we are teaching our students the skills to be successful in college and in the workplace. Taking time out of instruction to teach a test is not a wise move, especially if the current testing the state is doing is not looked at by those in higher education. Replacing these numerous tests with something like the ACT would align our students to be more successful.”