Gov. Kevin Stitt’s education policy priorities for the 2023 legislative session include school vouchers, performance pay for teachers, funding innovative schools and a reading initiative for young students. 

These priorities were highlighted in the governor’s annual state of the state address Monday. Stitt is proposing a $382.6 million increase to common education to support his priorities.

The largest line item is a school voucher program at $130 million, which would allow parents to direct a portion of education funding allotted for their child to private school tuition, homeschool supplies and various other educational expenses. Arizona and Florida are among the states with such programs, often called education savings accounts. 

Legislation to create a voucher system narrowly failed in the senate in 2022. Rural lawmakers joined Democrats in opposition out of concern the proposal would harm rural schools. 

Stitt continued to make his case for the proposal on Monday and credited his re-election to his recent support of such programs, saying “parents spoke loud and clear at the ballot box last November in support of our vision to create more options for kids.” Nearly 30% of 2022 general election voters chose the straight-party Republican option.

His stance is a change of course for Stitt who, during his first campaign in 2018, said at a candidate forum he wasn’t for vouchers.

“Providing more options for students leads to better outcomes,” Stitt said Monday. “Oklahoma cannot afford to be left behind. Because our greatest asset isn’t our oil and gas. It’s not our football teams. It’s not the aerospace and defense industry. It’s our kids.”

Stitt also highlighted a proposal to create a $100 million fund to create new, innovative schools like Norman Public Schools’ aviation academy; performance-based pay for teachers; and what he called “the most expansive reading initiative in the nation to get students reading at grade level.” 

Stitt’s budget proposal states the funding would, in part, support training teachers in the science of reading — a body of research that outlines successful ways of teaching children to read that includes decoding and phonics. The state Education Department is already training 10,000 Oklahoma teachers in the science of reading using $13 million from the CARES Act. 

Reading and teacher performance pay are also priorities for the state Department of Education under Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters. Both Stitt and Walters budgeted $100 million for a new reading initiative, but Stitt proposed $50 million for teacher performance pay, compared to Walters’ $150 million request. 

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.

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