A leading state senator wants to allocate an additional $541 million for K-12 education to fund a slate of new initiatives, including pay raises and paid maternity leave for educators and financial incentives to get more qualified teachers into classrooms.
Sen. Adam Pugh, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, unveiled on Wednesday a sweeping plan he hopes will serve as a blueprint for education reforms during the upcoming legislative session.
The Edmond Republican said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat asked him over the summer to formulate an education plan.
“I met with a number of school leaders, parents, administrators, teachers, and wanted to work to find something to build consensus and to collaborate around and to be a starting point,” he said.
Although Pugh said he can’t speak to whether other lawmakers will support his proposal, his leadership post on a powerful Senate committee will give him some leverage to advance his agenda.
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Notably absent from the proposal is any mention of school vouchers, which became a controversial issue last year after Treat filed a bill that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition.
Treat said he hopes Pugh’s plan sparks a discussion on how to improve education across the state.
Pugh filed 13 bills to carry out his plan, which aims to recruit, retain and reward teachers, in addition to other education reforms.
The most expensive part of the proposal is $241 million to increase starting teacher pay to nearly $40,000, up from $36,601, and boost state minimum educator salaries across the board.
Entry-level teachers through those in their fourth year of teaching would see $3,000 pay raises. Teachers with 15 or more years of experience would receive $6,000 pay bumps. Mid-career teachers would receive $4,000 or $5,000 pay raises based on their years of service.
Several Republican lawmakers have expressed support for boosting teacher pay this year, and two freshman senators flanked Pugh as he detailed his plan in a news conference.
Teachers last received a pay bump in 2019 — $1,220 on average — after a $6,100 hike the year before.
Pugh said he’s also excited about a bill he filed that would earmark more funding to ensure that young students are proficient in reading. His goal is for all students entering the fourth grade to be 100% proficient in reading.
He acknowledged that the price tag on his plan is high, but lawmakers are expected to have extra cash to spend this year. Pugh said he hasn’t discussed his proposal with new State Superintendent Ryan Walters.
“I hope this plan will demonstrate to teachers that we’re serious about the work that you do and we appreciate that you pour your heart and your soul into educating kids,” Pugh said.
$50 million for school safety grants that districts can use for security, infrastructure, technology or training.
$25 million to offer 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to teachers who have been with a district for at least one year.
$15 million in financial incentives to get more Oklahomans to spend at least four years in an Oklahoma classroom after graduating from a teaching college.
Reforming the A-F school report card so surveys administered to students, parents and school staff factor into a school’s grade.
Putting a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and math education.
Reforming charter schools.
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