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Educators optimistic, but set high bar for new Oklahoma governor

Posted at 3:39 PM, Jan 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-14 18:19:23-05

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Educators are feeling optimistic with a new administration, but expectations are high for Oklahoma's next governor.

Teachers tell us although progress was made last year, there's a long way to go in putting Oklahoma's education system in the top 10.

Many believe funding is the first step in the right direction.

"Reforming and improving education should not be a partisan issue,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said today in his inaugural address.

Education tops Stitt's agenda as he takes on the role of governor. His goals include seeking out qualified teachers, which is an ongoing challenge for districts across the state.

"He talked about turnaround and talked about specifically schools,” Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said. “That's really what I came to hear, to listen in about what he's going to do with schools and making us a top 10 state."

The superintendent says he appreciated the governor's sincerity and concern for public education.

“We did give raises to teachers which was needed for a long period of time, but now I think it's really about the operations of our districts and finding funding sources to make sure it goes back into our school systems so we get it to the classroom,” Mendenhall said.

Stitt says improving schools will go beyond the capitol.

“More government money is not the answer alone,” Stitt said.

But the Oklahoma Education Association says additional funding is needed.

"We've had a billion dollars in cuts over the last 10 years,” OEA president Alicia Priest said. “It's going to take money to fill that void. We've got curriculum, textbooks that are years old, we have 2,800 emergency certified teachers."

The OEA is asking for a $3,000 teacher raise this session, as well as more classroom dollars. The president says there will be a statewide response if goals aren't met by April 1.

“What that looks like, I won't know,” Priest said. “But we are certainly building relationships and working with our legislators in order to get that funding that's necessary for our students so that we don't have to do another walkout."

Educators are encouraged by the former teachers joining the legislature this session. In the last year, the education caucus grew from nine to 26.

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