Recent education proposals could be most comprehensive education reform in decades (Capitol Update)

Among the bill deadline’s better reveals last week was a set of serious proposals by Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, to improve Oklahoma education. This may be one of those rare moments in Oklahoma’s brief history where a giant step forward for education could be taken without having to ask for a tax increase. The money is there. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity. 

Sen. Pugh’s proposals appear to be designed first to address the critical teacher shortage by providing incentives for teachers to come into and to stay in the classroom. They include a scholarship program, called the Oklahoma Teacher Corps, that would provide full scholarships for education degrees and require teachers to work at least four years in an Oklahoma Title I school; improvements in the teacher mentoring program; a proposal to grant reciprocity for out-of-state certifications; 12-weeks of paid maternity leave for teachers; and an immediate teacher pay increase of $3,000 to $5,000 with the greater increases for teachers who remain in the classroom longer than 15 years. 

Beyond teacher development and retention, the Pugh proposals include, among others, items such as money for school security grants; changes in the state’s A-F report card by replacing it with “climate surveys” administered to students, staff, and parents and guardians of students; changes in the funding weights for several areas including early childhood reading proficiency, special education weights, the transportation weight and gifted/talented and socio-economic disadvantaged weights; allowing students to get credit for out-of-school learning; establishing a three-track course for high school graduation; and improving the State Department of Education’s accounting system to better track education funding. 

Sen. Pugh, who chairs both the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Appropriations Education Subcommittee, went about developing his plan in the right way. He says he met with over 200 superintendents, hundreds of teachers and parents, and dozens of education advocacy groups over the interim to gather ideas for his proposals. This probably explains both the breadth and the depth of his proposals and the absence of phony easy-fix, buzzword proposals. The total cost of Sen. Pugh’s proposals is $541 million. 

It will take a lot of effort by legislators and others to work through the proposals, match costs with likely results, and garner support, but it should be said that this is by far the most comprehensive look at education reform, attached with dollars which are said to be enough to pay for it, since House Bill 1017 over a generation ago. It will be necessary for Sen. Pugh to get support from his Senate colleagues as well as the House and the executive branch. He’ll have to be open to other suggestions and amendments to his proposals. I suspect his counterparts in the House, Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, Chair of the House Education Committee and Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education, both of whom are strong supporters of public education, will be supportive. Congratulations to Sen. Pugh for this important work.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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