Depending on which Oklahoman you talk to, Gov. Frank Keating is
either a slick politico who combines a meager understanding of
educational issues with a deep-seated dislike of public schooling, or
he's a straight shooter who's taking on an education cartel that has
mired the state in mediocrity.
"He despises public education and has a real problem hiding that," said Frosty Troy, the editor of the Oklahoma Observer, a twice-monthly independent journal of commentary.
"He's not interested in fluff, he's interested in results, meaning achievement gains on the part of students," said state Secretary of Education Frank Coppedge.
Those appraisals of Mr. Keating surfaced after the self-proclaimed "education governor"—who was re-elected in 1998—recently outlined a set of school proposals for his remaining time in office.
His plans included issuing $100 million in statewide school bonds for technology, providing more remedial and summer programs, and giving cash bonuses to high schools for every graduate who completes four years' study in the core academic subjects.
He also called for eliminating remedial freshman classes at four-year universities, providing "forgivable" loans for teacher training in crucial subjects, expanding alternative-certification programs, and implementing merit pay.
The Oklahoma Education Association, which represents 27,000 teachers in the state, accused Mr. Keating of being vague and disingenuous.
"He didn't keep his promise that he would fund the reforms he pushed in the last legislative session," Carolyn R. Crowder, the OEA president, said.
Teachers took offense when, at a press conference announcing his proposals, the Republican governor said he would hold teacher pay increases hostage to the approval of his other ideas.
The union is pushing for overall increases in funding for public education and teacher pay. Ms. Crowder said Oklahoma schools are losing teachers to neighboring states because of low salaries: "We have teachers that can take a 30-minute drive to Texas and make between $8,000 and $13,000 more," she said.
Mr. Keating is trying to restrain spending, and wants to target pay increases to teachers in the subjects of greatest shortage, specifically math and science, Mr. Coppedge said.
"You've got to pay some teachers more than others because of the market," he said.
—Andrew Trotter [email protected]
Vol. 19, Issue 14, Page 18