State of the States
Governor Gives Okla. Lawmakers School To-Do List
Gov. Brad Henry of Oklahoma used his Feb. 7 State of the State Address to urge lawmakers to adopt his new $114 million Achieving Classroom Excellence initiative.
The plan, also called ACE, was unveiled at an Oklahoma City elementary school earlier this month. It calls for a variety of actions, including raising teacher pay, implementing all-day kindergarten, and raising the requirements for high school graduation. The measures would increase state funding for education from $2 billion to $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2006, a change of 6 percent.
Funding for the ACE initiative will come from the revenues generated by the new education lottery and expanded gaming on Indian reservations that were passed by Oklahoma voters last November, the governor said.
Central to Mr. Henry’s initiative are his goals to increase teacher salaries and the state’s funding of teacher health insurance, both of which were passed by the legislature last year, but have yet to be financed.
“Last year we made a promise to our teachers,” Mr. Henry said in his third State of the State Address. “This year we must honor our commitment and stay the course.”
The governor’s fiscal 2006 budget calls for an additional $22.4 million to fully fund teacher health care, and $54.8 million to increase teacher pay.
Oklahoma currently ranks 49th out of the 50 states in teacher pay, according to the National Education Association. The governor’s plan would boost teachers’ annual salaries from their present level, $35,061, to meet the regional average of $38,993, over the next four years.
The governor’s speech drew rave reviews from school groups.
Keith Ballard, the executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, lauded the governor’s plan as a “bold step” for recognizing the importance of maintaining a highly competent teaching staff in Oklahoma schools.
Mr. Ballard also supports Mr. Henry’s $24.6 million plan to fully fund all-day kindergarten in all Oklahoma school districts, but notes that “facilities will be a problem.” He worries that programs for 4-year-olds, which already enroll more than 60 percent of the state’s preschool-age children, would have to be cut if adequate classroom space is not available.
Oklahoma’s older students will also be affected by the governor’s initiative.
The governor plans to improve middle school mathematics scores by providing additional training for math teachers and computer labs for students.
He also pledged to add new and “meaningful” 8th grade math tests, “with resources and help for students who need it, to ensure every student demonstrates the skills and knowledge necessary for future success.”
The governor’s budget allots $2 million for the middle school math initiative.
“In our high schools,” Mr. Henry continued, “we will promote a college-bound curriculum and phase in end-of-course testing that demands results from our students.”
Students will be required to take three years of high school math and pass end-of-instruction tests in specific course areas, to be phased in over several years, in order to graduate. All high schools students will take college-bound curriculum, unless their parents opt out of the program in a written statement.
Mr. Ballard said the high school and middle school initiative would extend responsibility for academic achievement to students and parents. “[The new plan] says to students, ‘You’re gonna have to do this,’ ” he said.
Glenn Coffee, the Senate Republican leader, expressed doubt that the governor’s initiative will pass easily through the legislature. “The only way many of these proposals have a chance to be enacted is if Gov. Henry will work with the Republicans to overcome the likely opposition of his former colleagues in the Senate Democratic leadership, who have a history of killing or watering-down reform proposals,” he said in a statement.
Vol. 24, Issue 23, Pages 25, 30Published in Print: February 16, 2005, as Oklahoma