Career technology, IT and higher teacher pay are key to the future of industry in Oklahoma
WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said computer science education, an increased focus on career technology, and higher pay for teachers are keys to Oklahoma’s future industries.
Stitt said he foresees the day in the not-too-distant future when Oklahoma teachers, who were once the second-to-last earner, will earn up to $100,000 a year.
“One of my priorities this year is to free up some performance pay. We want to keep our best and brightest in the classroom,” said Stitt, who faces re-election this year. “I want teachers to be able to make $100,000 a year and stay in this profession.”
During the National Governors Association’s four-day winter meeting, governors held policy discussions on infrastructure, bipartisan leadership and the importance of K-12 computer science education. the 12th year. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, President of the NGA, highlighted the connection between increasing student digital literacy and a stronger workforce.
A 2021 report on the state of computer science education estimated that only 53% of high schools in Oklahoma offered a computer science curriculum, ranking the state 27th in accessibility to such courses. Arkansas currently has 92% and is ranked number one in the nation under Hutchison’s IT initiative.
“We’re going to be leading the development of talent for the digital age,” Hutchison told fellow governors at the conference last weekend.
Last year, Stitt signed into law Senate Bill 252, which requires all public and charter high schools to offer a computer science course by the 2024-25 school year. In 2020, only 37% of high schools in Oklahoma offered computer science courses, but that number increased significantly in 2021.
“We know that training our workforce for these jobs of tomorrow is the most important thing we can do,” Stitt said. “As governor and leader of Oklahoma, I’m just trying to learn and put our state in the best position to succeed in the future.”
Stitt said trade focused on the electric vehicle industry is part of Oklahoma’s future as an energy producer. Canoo, an electric car company, plans to set up research and development centers in Tusla and already has a factory in Pryor. The governor met with Toyota and General Motors 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 focus more on career technology and bring more high school students into STEM, engineering and trades after graduation to fill these employment gaps. .
“We want to make sure career paths are very well established for high school kids who may not want to be an engineer, but they want to be an electrician, plumber, or HVAC,” Stitt said, “All the different trades are so important , and we’re trying to create those pathways to make sure every child 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 legislation 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 won’t affect any future plans to expand computer science programs across the state.
“We were just trying to meet the needs and make sure our schools stay open. Because the number one priority is making sure our kids don’t fall behind,” Stitt said.
Stitt said he intends to lead by example and solve the job shortage.
As part of SB 252, sponsored by Oklahoma State Senator Brenda Stanley (R, Midwest City) and State Representative Rhonda Baker (R, Yukon), schools that do not have a teacher computer science will offer an online course with a distance teacher. With additional programs added to the workload of teachers, Stitt says he plans to continue investing in education and teachers.
In 2018, Oklahoma passed a law that gives an additional $3,000 to $5,000 to teachers who mentor other teachers and spend 25 to 50 percent of their time mentoring. And some Oklahoma districts offer teachers additional pay based on performance and mentoring other teachers. But the program is not yet statewide.
Texas uses a pay-for-performance program called the Local Optional Teacher Designation System. The program was created in 2019 and has been battered because it relied heavily on standardized test scores, discouraged teaching struggling students and resulted in high teacher turnover rates. Although the average teacher salary increased by $7,000, the Texas American Federation of Teachers called the program “poorly designed.”
However, the Texas Education Agency reported that the state’s turnover rate fell to 9% for the 2020-2021 academic year. This attrition rate was lower than the past nine years.
Stitt says such a program would help inspire young teachers to stay in the classroom rather than move into administrative roles. The governor said he also hopes to bring more attention to education by moving school board elections to November to increase turnout.
“School board elections have never been more important,” Stitt said, “Right now, school board elections are in April like nobody knows. Nobody votes there. So I’m trying to move them to the general election calendar.”
Senate Bill 962, proposed by Sen. Greg Treat, (R, Oklahoma City) would move school board elections to November, but the Oklahoma State School Boards Association said the move was a “legislative alert.” The OSSBA said SB 962 would invite party politics into nonpartisan races.
Stitt said the role of education in Oklahoma’s future is significant, with unprecedented challenges and additional educational programs.
“We’re hyper-focused on training the workforce,” Stitt said.
The NGA Winter Meeting and the Republican Governors Association Winter Meeting were held on the same weekend, and Stitt emphasized the benefits of both.
“It’s great to be here and meet all my colleagues from across the country who we talk to on the phone all the time. It’s just great to be together,” Stitt said, “It’s a great time to come and represent Oklahoma.”
Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more Gaylord News stories, visit GaylordNews.net.