To improve Oklahoma’s K-12 school system, lawmakers were recently encouraged to look to House Bill 1017, an education law passed in 1990, as a model, even as they were also urged to stay the course better than their 1990s predecessors.
“With House Bill 1017, we saw both: We saw a huge funding of common education. We also saw a very ambitious, aggressive approach to some reforms,” said Ryan Walters, executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, an arm of The State Chamber that focuses on workforce development. “I do think that there was a lack of follow-through on those, maybe a lack of teeth in some of those to ensure that those were followed through. Maybe even bigger asks were made. But I do think that the Legislature—both sides of the aisle—agreed that this was going to be a comprehensive reform approach to the education system.”
During a recent meeting of the House Common Education Committee, legislators reviewed some major provisions of HB 1017, in particular reform measures that were later abandoned.
Walters noted that HB 1017 included incentive pay provisions and provided for creation of five different incentive-pay plans that schools could, but were not required, to use. Walters, who spent 10 years as a classroom teacher at McAlester and still teaches some courses today, said officials at Oklahoma Achieves believe incentive pay for teachers remains a worthy goal.
“We feel like this is a great way of thinking to try to incentivize teachers that are taking on added responsibilities, or proven to be very effective in schools, or maybe they’re filling specific shortage areas,” Walters said. “So there’s a lot of different ways this could be implemented. We didn’t find a lot of districts that did implement these things, at least in the nature of what the bill laid forth.”
He noted districts today generally pay stipends under certain circumstances, but not incentive pay as envisioned in HB 1017.
Over the last two years, Oklahoma has increased teacher pay by more than $7,000 on average, yet the state still struggles to attract teachers and many of those now entering the profession are emergency certified teachers who did not get a degree in education.
Walters noted HB 1017 also provided for alternative teacher certification to encourage non-teachers to get into the profession, particularly in mathematics, science, and foreign languages, where there are shortages. Teachers with alternative certifications receive more training than those who are emergency certified.
“The Legislature predicted a teacher shortage,” Walters said. “They wanted to increase pathways for those who wanted to get involved in teaching to get to the classroom, but also provide some pathway to do that with a training regimen and education at a higher level before they set foot in the classroom.”
HB 1017 also required a state Professional Standards Board to create a subcommittee for teacher training in the 21st century.
“That’s repealed shortly after the passage of the bill,” Walters said. “And again, as it was described earlier, we see a lot of noble intention here of really trying to make sure the teaching profession is going to be effective for our students in the future that doesn’t quite come to fruition. So again, great thought there, great idea in looking at this, but we don’t see the follow-through on that that might have made that much more productive.”
Other provisions of HB 1017 allowed for districts to have an extended school year consisting of either 11 or 12 months and offering at least six hours a day. Millions in additional funding was provided to schools that extended the school year.
However, Walters said only a handful of districts tried an extended school year, and most abandoned it.
“This was meant, from my reading of this, especially for students that were behind, schools that were behind, that they could do this and receive this extra funding,” Walters said. “We did not see many schools that adopted this.”
He noted the emphasis on increased school time contrasts with some current trends in Oklahoma’s school system.
“Obviously, now we’re talking four-day school week and everything else, but back then part of the approach was to maybe incentivize going longer, that that could be a productive thing,” Walters said.
He said the business community, as represented through Oklahoma Achieves, believes reforms are again needed in Oklahoma schools, and that some measures originally included in HB 1017 should be reviewed again.
“We think that, coupled with a lot of the funding that we’ve seen gone through in the last couple of years, that we would like to see some of these issues that we’ve been struggling with since 1990 be addressed in a large way,” Walters said.
Rep. Chad Caldwell, an Enid Republican who requested the review of HB 1017, said it provides a better model for improving education than the spending-only approach taken by the Legislature in recent years.
“In 1990 with 1017 we put a lot of money into education. We had a huge investment. But we accompanied that with large reforms and significant reforms, and everybody holds it as a success,” Caldwell said. “Contrast that with what we’ve just done the last two years. We’ve put a historic investment into education, and have totally separated that from any type of reform.”