Ray Carter | January 26, 2023
Walters’ plan: $10,000 teacher performance-pay increase
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters’ newly unveiled budget plan would provide performance-pay increases of up to $10,000 for teachers along with $100 million in new funding to make certain that Oklahoma students learn to read by the end of the third grade.
“We must ensure that the best teachers in our state are incentivized and that their pay matches their performance,” said Walters, a Republican who began his first term in office this month.
A budget plan released last September by former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, a Democrat, called for giving all teachers $5,000 raises on average.
Walter’s plan provides for larger raises of up to $10,000 based on performance metrics but does not guarantee a pay raise for every teacher. Hofmeister’s plan called for spending $309 million for teacher pay raises, while Walters’ plan would dedicate $150 million to performance-pay increases.
Walters proposed using $100 million in new spending freed up by that change to address the growing literacy problem in Oklahoma schools. Reading performance in Oklahoma schools steadily declined throughout Hofmeister’s eight years in office despite massive increases in school spending since 2018. Hofmeister’s final budget proposal did not include any comparable focus on reading.
“If a student can’t read going into third and fourth grade, the likelihood of them graduating on time, the likelihood of them having mastery in other subjects, is greatly diminished,” Walters said. “For Oklahoma to get our education system back on track, every child has to be able to read by fourth grade.”
He noted this year’s third-grade students were in kindergarten when COVID first disrupted learning, which contributed to significant learning loss. But the data also show literacy rates were declining in Oklahoma schools even in the years prior to COVID.
In the 2016-2017 school year, 38.5 percent of Oklahoma third-grade students started the year identified as being “at risk” in reading. That figure has increased every single year since and currently includes 48.8 percent of third-grade students.
Walters’ budget proposal for the Oklahoma State Department of Education includes new funding for an instructional coaching network that will involve tutoring support, regional assistance, and dyslexia intervention grants.
“This is bold. This is aggressive,” Walters said. “It’s the most comprehensive reading plan in the country.”
Under Walters’ proposal, teacher performance-pay raises will be tied in part to teachers’ evaluations on an existing teacher-leadership rating system that accounts for a range of factors, including student performance, and the amount of professional learning hours completed each year by a teacher.
The plan provides for incentives ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 per teacher.
“We have to find ways to find teachers who are doing a great job, number one, but also incentivize them as they continue to grow and we see teachers that are getting better every year through professional development,” Walters said. “We have to keep these teachers. We have to retain these teachers. And this is a very aggressive plan to do that.”
The focus on rewarding Oklahoma’s best teachers and improving reading outcomes accounted for two of “three core elements” Walters highlighted as priorities for addressing Oklahoma’s education challenges. The third element was to “implement the most expansion school-choice program in the country.”
Walters’ plan received unanimous approval from the State Board of Education and will be submitted to legislative officials as part of the appropriations process.
Walters said his focus as state superintendent will be to make sure that education spending results in improved outcomes, and not to simply increase spending without addressing systemic challenges.
“Educators, teachers, parents, and kids have all faced tremendous challenges over the last several years of COVID and other roadblocks in education,” Walters said. “There’s a loud and vocal crowd, a minority for sure, that say all that is needed to fix the problems in education is to toss more money and to leave everything alone. This is not the direction that we are going.
“We will reform all of our education system,” Walters continued. “There will be accountability and transparency. There will be school choice. We will ensure that indoctrination and CRT (Critical Race Theory) are eliminated in our state. We will also make sure that our kids are safe. There will be no boys in the girls’ bathrooms. There will be no pornography in our schools. We will make sure all of our vendors and schools are focused on education and not ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion.’”
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.