Gov Kevin Stitt was reelected Tuesday and his pick for state superintendent, Ryan Walters, secured his seat as well, setting up a new direction for education in Oklahoma.
Stitt defeated Joy Hofmeister, state superintendent of public instruction for the past eight years.
Walters defeated Jena Nelson, a teacher who has never held public office. Walters is a former teacher, executive director of the nonprofit Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, and secretary of education, a role Stitt appointed him to in 2020.
Despite polls showing both races would be close, Stitt and Walters each won by a margin of 14 percentage points.
Here are four ways a Stitt/Walters administration is likely to impact education in Oklahoma.
• Private school vouchers are all but certain. A Senate bill to implement vouchers was narrowly defeated earlier this year, and proponents vowed to try again if Stitt was re-elected. That proposal was expected to cost the state $119 to $162 million. Expect to see a similar plan in 2023.
• Education funding was boosted the year Stitt was elected and has held steady through his first term. The state received an influx of federal COVID-19 relief funding for schools in 2020 and 2021 which schools are still spending. Stitt told Oklahoma Watch “we’ll continue to invest” in education.
• Many teachers supported Hofmeister and Nelson, and say they’ll quit with Walters at the helm of the Education Department. Oklahoma is already facing a teacher shortage. And educators are feeling dejected after years of lagging investment in the classroom, the 2018 teacher walkout, then a global pandemic that disrupted schools’ operations. These results might be the breaking point. However, previous concerns of mass resignations in schools fortunately haven’t panned out. In 2022, a survey found 7% of teachers resigned or retired, compared to 5% in 2019.
• Battles over teaching history, discussions about race and gender, and book controversies are all likely to ramp up. Already, two school districts have been penalized under House Bill 1775, the so-called anti “critical race theory” law. Walters has advocated for stripping credentials from teachers who violate the law.
Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.