In a press conference last Wednesday afternoon, Senate Education Committee Chairman Adam Pugh unveiled his personal education agenda for the upcoming 2023 Oklahoma legislative session. Pugh’s priorities include proposals that would raise teacher pay, require school districts to provide 12 weeks of maternity leave, and reform various bureaucratic components of the Oklahoma’s education system.

Pugh’s plan made no specific reference to the highly anticipated (and controversial) topic of school choice or private school vouchers, which have been previously articulated as priorities for Gov. Kevin Stitt and new Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters.

Pugh, a Republican Senator out of Edmond, emphasized that he was not speaking for the full Oklahoma State Senate, though he presented his plan with new Senate Education Committee Vice Chairwoman Ally Seifried (R-Claremore) and Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Vice Chairwoman Kristen Thompson (R-Edmond), both freshmen lawmakers. Pugh said he spent the last eight months developing his plan, and he estimated his proposals would require $541 million in new appropriations for the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“I met with over 200 public school superintendents,” Pugh said. “I met with every college president in the state of Oklahoma. I met with hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers and parents and advocacy groups. And the goal there was just to listen and take notes and hear their concerns and find areas where we could work together to advance education and outcomes for our kids — for the state of Oklahoma.”

Pugh states that education stakeholders and even his fellow senators are unlikely to support every part of his plan.

“Honestly, they may not agree with every single piece of legislation that I have on this plan, but that wasn’t the point,” Pugh said. “The point was that we were going to build relationships, and we were going to work together, and that this plan was the starting point.”

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-OKC) issued a statement about Pugh’s proposals, saying he hopes Pugh “sparks a discussion” on improving Oklahoma education.

“Last year, I asked Sen. Pugh to come up with concepts to improve public education in the state holistically, while getting input from major stakeholders and coming up with a plan to get Oklahoma on the right path for our students,” Treat said. “I appreciate the thoughtful efforts Sen. Pugh put into his ideas. His agenda this session is ambitious, and I hope Sen. Pugh unveiling his ideas sparks a discussion with others on how to improve education in the state. While individual members will have their own suggestions on how to improve upon his ideas, it is a great place to start as we put our children, their parents and hardworking teachers first. I have full confidence in Sen. Pugh’s abilities to lead these conversations on this important topic.”

The Four R’s:

Pugh’s comprehensive plan is laid out in 13 specific bills under four pillars: Reward, Recruit, Retain and Reform.

The bills are:

·         SB 482 to provide a teacher pay raise that establishes $40,000 as a minimum starting salary with graduated raises to the minimum salary schedule based on longevity. The estimated cost is $241 million;

·         SB 529 to create an “Oklahoma Teacher Corps” by providing scholarships for students who enroll in and graduate from Oklahoma colleges of education and then commit to four years of service in a Title I public school in Oklahoma. The estimated cost is $15 million, although a similar program created by the Legislature in 2022 — which does not include the Title I school requirement — received an appropriation of $17 million;

·         SB 522 to create a mentorship program that offers $500 stipends for mentors of new teachers. The estimated cost is $5 million;

·         SB 361 to create a multi-state teacher licensure compact;

·         SB 364 to require districts to provide certain teachers at least 12 weeks of maternity leave. The estimated cost is $25 million;

·         SB 523 to provide the Oklahoma School Security Institute with $50 million in grant funding for which schools could apply to meet their security needs;

·         SB 525 to allocate $1 million to reimburse districts to pay for teachers’ recertifications;

·         SB 531 to remove the attendance metric on A-F school report cards and replace it with a “school climate survey”;

·         SB 527 to increase money spent on kindergarten through third grade reading instruction. The “ultimate goal,” Pugh said, is 100 percent reading proficiency for students by the end of third grade;

·         SB 528 to allow students to earn school credit for internships, externships, part-time jobs and other non-classroom activities “that directly contribute to learning or career advancement;”

·         SB 516 to reform charter school governance by eliminating the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and creating a new Charter School Board. The bill would also increase oversight and financial controls over charter schools. The bill is estimated to cost $1.5 million;

·         SB 359 to modify the state school funding formula as it relates to property tax dollars. The bill is estimated to cost $60 million;

·         SB 520 to build three graduation tracks into schools and increase STEM preparedness by requiring students in the college track to have four years of math and science.