The Journal Record
August 24, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY – After a historic teacher pay raise and statewide walkout, education has become one of the most important policy areas in this year’s election.
Candidates for some of the state’s highest offices weighed in on some of that area’s most pressing issues just days before the final primary election.
Republicans vying for both state superintendent and governor will head to runoff elections on Tuesday. Those candidates debated one another as well as their Democratic opponents at the end of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association’s conference on Friday.
They focused on overall school funding, how to best address the state’s ongoing teacher shortage and conflicts between public schools and their charter or private competitors.
The gubernatorial candidates maintained the same themes during that conversation as they have in several others. Mick Cornett, a Republican candidate and former Oklahoma City mayor, revisited his ethos as a consensus builder. Kevin Stitt, a Republican challenger and mortgage company founder, touted his experience as a businessman and said he’d bring those principles to the Governor’s Mansion. Democrat Drew Edmondson leaned on his history as a public servant and educator who advocates for investment in services.
Cornett said Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and funding issues can be addressed only if officials work together to improve communities’ desirability across the state. He noted that teachers tend to be young professionals who decide where to live based on the quality of life that a city or town can offer their families.
“I will always be pushing for more funding, but as you know, the governor can’t do all of that by themselves,” he said. “Until we invest in rural Oklahoma, it’s going to be hard to recruit teachers and their spouses … to these communities.”
Stitt said Oklahoma needs to implement business practices such as proactive recruiting and bonuses if it is going to compete with Texas and Arkansas. The teacher shortage should be the first priority, he said, and the governor will have to work with the state superintendent and school boards to address it.
“That is the first step in getting the best outcomes for our kids,” he said.
Edmondson, who didn’t fail to mention his own teaching degree and experience in the classroom, said poor investment in education is bad for economic development and that Oklahoma needs to put more money in the education system. He said he would push for an end to gross production tax incentives, an end to the capital gains tax exemption and a further increase in cigarette taxes to achieve that investment.
“I think you’re entitled to specifics,” he said.
Each had to answer a question about whether Oklahoma should give public money to private schools and how much scrutiny those institutions should face. Cornett again drew on his history of consensus building, saying he can support both kinds of schools. Stitt said increasing accountability in government spending is why he is running for governor. Edmondson said public money belongs only in public schools.
The superintendent candidates faced the same questions, and they similarly showed a focus throughout all of them. Democratic candidate John Cox homed in on his opposition to private and charter institutions, particularly in rural communities that are affected heavily when students leave and take funding from the system. Incumbent Joy Hofmeister focused on continuing her efforts to pare down testing and repair the teacher shortage. Republican opponent Linda Murphy focused on shifting authority from the federal and state governments to local school boards.