If 2018 was a wave of teacher candidates running for office, 2020 was more like a ripple.
Still, the number of lawmakers with education experience grew by two, according to a count by the Oklahoma Educators Association. That means the 2021 “education caucus” will include 10 senators and 17 representatives.
One notable new face will be Jo Anna Dossett, a Democrat and career educator from Owasso. She was elected to represent senate district 35 in Tulsa and replaces Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, who could not run for re-election due to term limits. Stanislawski, who served 12 years in office, was chairman of the senate education committee.
We asked Dossett about her future senate career. Her responses have been edited lightly.
Q: Tell me about why you decided to run for the senate.
A: J.J. (Dossett, also a senator) is my brother. This is all his fault . . . just kidding! Volunteering on his campaign taught me the steps one has to follow to run for office, but my biggest inspiration was always actually my former Oklahoma State House Representative Jeannie McDaniel. I’m still trying to be like Jeannie, when I grow up.
Q: What are you most excited to tackle now that you’ve been elected?
A: Improving public education in Oklahoma, increasing access to healthcare and improving Oklahomans’ health outcomes, and reducing Oklahoma’s excessive incarceration rates
In the last weeks of the Oklahoma primary elections, outside groups have spent close to $10 million to support or oppose candidates running for office. Some of that spending has far outpaced campaign spending by the candidates themselves.
Q: Tell us about your teaching experience, and your kids’ schooling experience so far this year.
A: I’m in the middle of my 16th year teaching in Oklahoma public schools. I teach English learners in kindergarten through fifth grade. I’ll be resigning just prior to swearing in later this month. Teaching and learning has been challenging this year, both in terms of protecting health and safety, and also promoting academic growth. As always, our public school systems are the institutions holding our communities together during this difficult time in Oklahoma.
Q: What are students’ greatest needs this year? How about teachers?
A: In-person teachers and learners need physical settings that protect their health and safety, and that of their families and loved ones at home. Distance teachers and learners need increased access to the internet, hardware and training they need to work effectively over virtual platforms. For many of us now operating in a combination of in-person and distance situations, we are experiencing these needs in an all-of-the-above way.
Q: How do you expect the Legislature to address school funding in 2021?
A: It’s going to be a tough budget year, due to the economic impact of COVID-19. There will be an urge to cut core services, such as public education, on which many Oklahomans depend. With particular respect to public education, 2021 is not the time for cuts. We cannot sustain them.
Q: How do you expect the Legislature to address Epic Charter Schools following the recently released audit?
A: Following the recent passage of HB 1395, requiring public charter school management organizations to report itemized invoices for management fees, the Oklahoma Legislature has great momentum toward the adequate financial regulation of all types of Oklahoma public schools. The legislature should build on that momentum in 2021 and future sessions.
MORE EDUCATION COVERAGE
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Jennifer Palmer reports on statewide ACT scores and how schools are spending COVID relief money. Keaton Ross discusses his story about the Oklahoma Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency’s report on the problems they found in state prisons and the Department of Corrections.
The latest probe found serious problems, including student attendance patterns that skirted state law; large, unapproved bonuses for staff and violations of laws on competitive bidding requirements.