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Senate Republicans lay out legislative education goals for upcoming regular session

From left to right, Republican Senators Ally Seifried, Adam Pugh, Dewayne Pemberton and Kristen Thompson stand ready to talk about their education priorities for the 2024 legislative session, Jan. 31, 2024, in a press room at the Oklahoma State Capitol. All four senators are members of the Senate Education Committee.
Lionel Ramos
From left to right, Republican Senators Ally Seifried, Adam Pugh, Dewayne Pemberton and Kristen Thompson stand ready to talk about their education priorities for the 2024 legislative session, Jan. 31, 2024, in a press room at the Oklahoma State Capitol. All four senators are members of the Senate Education Committee.

Republican members of the Senate Education Committee say they’ll push incentivizing teachers to end an ongoing shortage and stimulating the economy when session begins Feb. 5.

There are at least 28 education bills proposed in the Senate this legislative session. They include teacher pay raises, higher reading standards, and efforts to keep students in the classroom.

Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, chairs the Senate Education Committee. He says the goal is to amp up Oklahoma’s future workforce.

“There is a direct correlation between education attainment and economic outcome,” Pugh said during a press conference at the State Capitol Wednesday. “And we have got to better position the state of Oklahoma to lead the nation. And position the United States to once again be the world's leader in education.” 

He said paying college tuition and fees for young teachers-to-be, and then paying them enough to want to stay in the classroom once they start teaching, will ensure rising standards for Oklahoma students are met.

Pugh was joined by three of his colleagues in the Senate: Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee; Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond; Sen. Ally Seifried, R-Claremore. They took turns explaining how some of their proposed bills would help fill the state’s teacher shortage and stimulate the economy.

Seifried is proposing SB 1342, a bill establishing the Oklahoma Teacher Recruitment Academy, which would mandate the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to pay tuition and fees for students who choose to study to become teachers.

The subsidized schooling would have some stipulations attached for students. Individuals who get money from the regents will be required to teach in a critical shortage subject area for the number of years they received assistance from the state.

Pemberton’s SB 1520 aims at bringing retired teachers back into Oklahoma’s public schools by increasing their salary caps. Retired teachers under 62 will be able to earn up to $30,000. Those over that age could earn up to $55,000.

“We need to try to build our (teacher) pipeline,” he said. “But you can’t build that pipeline fast enough. We’re in a situation that we don’t have the front-end kids coming in as quickly as we’d like them to. So we’re going to incentivize the back end.”

One of Thompson’s goals is to limit school districts’ use of virtual days. Her SB 1768 aims to do just that by naming what constitutes enough of an emergency: inclement weather, teacher staffing shortages, and building maintenance.

Pugh also said he plans to introduce updates to last year's school choice program, which protects parents collecting their private school vouchers from having to pay taxes on them.

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Lionel Ramos covers state government for a consortium of Oklahoma’s public radio stations. He is a graduate of Texas State University in San Marcos with a degree in English. He has covered race and equity, unemployment, housing, and veterans' issues.
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