Education , Good Government

Ray Carter | January 9, 2023

Stitt makes education priority at inauguration

Ray Carter

In an inauguration speech marking the start of his second term, Gov. Kevin Stitt vowed to continue his efforts to make Oklahoma a top 10 state in all areas with education and school choice a major focus.

“Parents, we are going to fight for you,” Stitt said. “We are going to challenge the status quo. And we are going to break out of the bottom and break into top 10.”

The audience in attendance for Stitt’s speech included K-12 students from public schools, public charter schools, and private schools. At one point, Stitt directly addressed those students and families across the state.

“To the students, and to your parents, I want you to hear directly from me: I do not accept that Oklahoma’s education system is ranked near the bottom,” Stitt said. “I will fight every day for you.”

To “unleash our state’s full potential,” Stitt said officials must “rethink education in Oklahoma.”

He said that should include giving “students more access to learning methods that fit their unique needs” and said Oklahoma children deserve “access to top 10 education choices.”

“We need more schools—not less schools like the fearmongers claimed when we called for change,” Stitt said.

During the 2022 gubernatorial campaign, Stitt championed proposals that would allow taxpayer funding to follow students to any school, including private schools. His Democratic opponent, Joy Hofmeister, claimed such school choice efforts were a “rural school killer.”

That claim flew in the face of real-world experience elsewhere. In states with robust school choice programs, such as Florida, school choice has resulted in the opening of new private schools in rural areas, not school closures.

Voters strongly embraced Stitt’s vision over Hofmeister’s attacks. Stitt won by a larger margin in 2022 than he won in 2018 with his largest margins of victory coming in rural counties. A similar pattern was notable in the race for state superintendent of public instruction, which was won by Ryan Walters, a Republican who also championed school choice.

Walters also began his term in office on Monday, Jan. 9.

“The next four years my focus will ensure we are putting Oklahoma’s students first,” Walters said. “We will do what is best for the schools, students, parents, and teachers. I look forward to working with Governor Stitt, the Legislature and the State Board of Education to empower parents, increase teacher pay, protect girls’ sports, and keep the fundamentals of Oklahoma’s educational system at the forefront during my tenure.”

During his first term, Stitt noted he and the Legislature “expanded education freedom for more students,” referring to the expansion of a tax-credit scholarship program that provides tax breaks to those who donate to organizations funding private-school scholarships, and a dramatic expansion in open-transfer opportunities among public school districts.

“We believe every kid deserves the best education possible,” Stitt said, “regardless of his or her economic status or ZIP code.”

During his first term in office, Stitt noted that he had led the state from its prior cycle of “year-after-year budget shortfalls and a government in disarray” to “having largest savings account in Oklahoma’s history, turning budget deficits into nearly a $4 billion savings account—the foundation for a top 10 future.”

Even as state savings were dramatically increased, Stitt noted he had signed into law a teacher pay raise that made Oklahoma educators’ salary and benefits package the highest in the region at that time after accounting for cost-of-living differences and tax rates. He also signed tax cuts that benefited all Oklahomans.

And throughout most of the COVID pandemic, Stitt fought to keep Oklahoma open for business, including efforts to provide in-person instruction at state schools even as many other states and localities continued to keep schools closed.

As a result, Oklahoma’s population continues to increase, in part because of migrants from other states who moved to Oklahoma because of the greater freedom afforded citizens during the pandemic.

“Oklahoma has become one of the most desirable states in the nation to live, work, and raise a family,” Stitt said. “In fact, new Census data released last week now ranks Oklahoma as top 10 in states with highest net migration. Because when other states shut down, Oklahoma chose freedom and personal responsibility. We led with both courage and compassion, and we did not surrender our citizens to groupthink.”

Although Oklahoma is better off today than it was four years ago, Stitt said things can still be better.

“There is more to do,” Stitt said. “I believe Oklahomans recognized this too. Because it was you—the voter—who rejected special interests last November that were fighting to stop our top 10 agenda. You recognized that these hidden groups were fighting to preserve their monopolies, their control and unfair advantage. You demanded a leader who is here for one purpose only: to serve you, the people, to serve all 4 million Oklahomans, to make Oklahoma top 10.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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