Good Government

Time for a politician’s job review

January 26, 2022

Jonathan Small

Just as workers in the private sector undergo routine job reviews, it’s important that citizens take time to review the records of officeholders.

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister is now beginning her eighth and final year in that office, so it’s worth considering what results she has generated.

It’s a record that few citizens would give a passing grade.

Since student learning is the most basic metric for a state head of schools, we should begin there. And what state tests show is steep decline. Statewide in all districts and grades, fewer students are performing at grade level or better. Many are doing much, much worse. Those scoring “below basic,” the category for children more than a year behind in a subject, comprised 40 percent of all students statewide in 2021. Just 30 percent were in that category in spring 2019.

That decline can’t be blamed on funding. During Hofmeister’s tenure, state school spending has increased 25 percent, rising from about $2.4 billion in her first year in office to roughly $3 billion this year. School districts actually carried over $1 billion this year, an increase of more than 50 percent in savings compared to five years prior.

What of the teacher shortage? It persists—but not because of teacher pay. Indeed, a recent report from the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) found Oklahoma’s average teacher salary now ranks highest in the immediate region and 21st nationally after adjusting for tax burdens and cost-of-living differences. In response, Hofmeister said it was “one dimensional” to look at teacher salaries. If so, why has she not said so before now?

Admittedly, learning loss in Oklahoma schools is tied to pandemic closures and distance learning.

But rather than fight for full reopening of schools, Hofmeister sought to close even more schools for a much longer period of time, putting her at odds with Gov. Kevin Stitt, who used his bully pulpit to advocate for school reopening.

At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Hofmeister called for mandating the closure of schools when COVID rates topped 25 cases per 100,000 population in a county—a very low threshold—and recommended transition to distance learning at rates as low as 14.39 cases per 100,000 population.

Stitt’s appointees to the Board of Education rejected Hofmeister’s call to mandate closures and left those decisions up to local districts. It’s a good thing they did so. Had Hofmeister’s plan been implemented, schools in a majority of counties would have been closed every single week from Aug. 27, 2020, to March 4, 2021.

Under Hofmeister, the state is spending much more to get worse education results for children. That she was unsuccessful in advancing some policies that would have made things even worse is only a small consolation.