Stitt touts paying Oklahoma teachers $100,000


Governor Stitt speaks with reporters at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022 (Gaylord News/Mikaela DeLeon)

Mikaela Deleon

WASHINGTON – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says computer science education, an increased focus on career tech and higher teacher pay are keys to the future industries of Oklahoma.

Stitt said he foresees the day in the not too distant future where Oklahoma teachers, who once were next to last in pay, will earn as much as $100,000 a year. 

“One of my priorities this year is to unleash some pay for performance. We want to keep our best and brightest in the classroom,” said Stitt, who is facing reelection this year. “I want teachers to be able to make $100,000 a year and stay in this profession.” 

Over the four-day National Governors’ Association Winter meeting, governors held policy discussions on infrastructure, bi-partisan leadership and the importance of K-12 computer science education. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, chairman of the NGA, emphasized the link between increased student digital literacy and a stronger workforce.  

A 2021 State of Computer Science Education report estimated that only 53% of Oklahoma high schools offered a computer science curriculum, ranking the state as number 27th in accessibility to these courses. Arkansas currently boasts 92% and is ranked as number one in the nation under the computer science initiative by Hutchison. 

“We’re going to lead in training the talent for the digital age,” Hutchison told his fellow governors during the conference last weekend.

Last year, Stitt signed into law Senate Bill 252 , which requires that all public and charter high schools offer a computer science course by the 2024-25 school year.. In 2020, only 37% of Oklahoma high schools offered computer science courses, but that number rose significantly in 2021. 

“We know that training our workforce for those jobs of tomorrow is the most important thing we can do,” Stitt said “As the governor and leader of Oklahoma, I’m just trying to learn and put our state in the best spot for success in the future.”

Stitt said commerce focused on the electric vehicle industry is a part of Oklahoma’s future as an energy producer. Canoo, an electric car company, plans to bring research and development centers to Tusla and already has a factory in Pryor. The governor met with Toyota and General Motors while in Washington and said he sees Oklahoma leaning heavily on electric vehicles in the future. 

He said understanding computer science and other educational requirements for STEM-related jobs will be crucial to building Oklahoma’s economic future. 

Stitt said Oklahoma should be focusing more on career tech and getting more high school students into STEM, engineering and the trades after graduation to fill these employment gaps. 

“We want to make sure that career paths are very well established for high school kids that maybe don’t want to become an engineer, but they want to become an electrician, or a plumber or HVAC,” Stitt said, “All of the different trades are so important, and we’re trying to create those pathways to make sure every kid has a great opportunity coming out of Oklahoma high schools.”

Oklahoma K-12 schools are currently experiencing a teacher shortage due to COVID-19 surges. Recently, Stitt signed a law allowing state employees to serve as substitute teachers to fill staffing gaps. Stitt said he thinks the teacher shortage will be a temporary issue and will not affect any future plans to expand computer science programs across the state. 

“We were just trying to fill the needs and make sure that our schools stayed open. Because the number one priority is to make sure our kids are not getting behind,” Stitt said. 

Stitt said he intended to lead by example and solve the employment shortage. 

​​Under SB 252, sponsored by Oklahoma State Sen. Brenda Stanley (R, Midwest City) and State Rep. Rhonda Baker (R, Yukon), schools that do not have a computer science teacher will offer an online course with a remote teacher. With additional programs added to teachers’ workloads, Stitt says he plans to continue investing in education and teachers. 

In 2018, Oklahoma passed a law that provides $3,000 to $5,000 extra to teachers who provide mentoring to other teachers and spend 25 percent to 50 percent of their time mentoring. And some Oklahoma districts offer teachers additional pay based on performance and mentorship of other teachers. But the program is not statewide yet. 

Texas uses a pay-by-performance program called the Local Optional Teacher Designation System. The program was created in 2019 and has been met with backlash for being heavily reliant on standardized test scores, disincentivizing the teaching of struggling students and causing high turnover rates of teachers. Although teachers’ average salary increased by $7,000, the Texas American Federation of Teachers has called the program “ill-conceived.” 

However, the Texas Education Agency reported the state turnover rate fell to 9% for the academic year of 2020-2021. That attrition rate was lower than the past nine years. 

Stitt says such a program would help to incentivize younger teachers to stay in classrooms rather than move toward administrative roles. The governor said he also hopes to draw more attention to education by moving school board elections to November to increase participation. 

“School board elections have never been more important,” Stitt said, “Right now, school board elections are held in April like nobody knows about them. Nobody votes in them. So I’m trying to get those moved to the general election timeframe.”  

Senate Bill 962, proposed by Sen. Greg Treat, (R, Oklahoma City) would shift school board elections to November, but the Oklahoma State School Boards Association has declared the move to be a “legislative alert”. The OSSBA said SB 962 would invite party politics into non-partisan races. 

Stitt said education’s role in Oklahoma’s future is significant, with continued unprecedented challenges and additional educational programs. 

“We are hyper-focused on training the workforce,” Stitt said. 

The NGA Winter Meeting and the Republican Governors Association Winter Meeting took place over the same weekend and Stitt emphasized the benefit of both. 

“It’s great to be here and meet all my colleagues from around the country that we talk to on the phone all the time. It’s just neat to be together,” Stitt said, “It’s a neat time to come represent Oklahoma.”


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