LAWTON, OK (KSWO) – State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was at Lawton High School with the Oklahoma State Department of Education for their annual "Engage OK" on the road conference.
Last year, the conference was held in Oklahoma City. This year, budget cuts have limited travel for many districts so the Department of Education made stops in 6 cities for attendees. The conference allows teachers, school administrators, guidance counselors, parents and the community to share ideas and attend seminars.
Hofmeister would not talk about Governor Mary Fallin's announcement concerning a special session of the legislature. Fallin would like to use the $140 million of found revenue to fund teacher pay raises.
Hofmeister said because the session hasn't even been agreed upon yet, she would not comment on the proposal until the Governor comes up with a more specific plan with more details. However, she did talk about how the budget crisis will touch every classroom across the state this year.
"As a result of this year's $1.3 billion shortfall in state revenue, every agency and department in the state was impacted. While the cuts for public education were minimal, the amount of money they did get isn't enough to keep up with the rising needs. The uncertainty of not having the funds we know a growing student population requires is something that is on the minds of school leaders and parents as well. This year, as they begin the school year, they are going to see increased class sizes and we still have a teacher shortage. So those cuts have consequences, and we know that Oklahomans want pretty much to solve this. Each child deserves a first-class education, and they certainly deserve to have a teacher in their classroom too," Hofmeister said.
Teacher shortages are a huge concern for districts throughout the state. The State Board of Education held a meeting after the "Engage OK" conference. They approved over three-hundred individuals, who are not yet certified teachers.
"Emergency certifications are something that we normally take one at a time to the state board…they have increased so frequently because there is not enough teachers in the state to fill the classrooms that we have with the growing student population. So, this is an unprecedented [amount] of emergency certifications to ask special permission from the SBOE to provide to the schools all across the state who have found someone to fill that need," Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister said it was impossible to keep the shortfall from impacting the classroom. Unfortunately, parents statewide will see the difference in their child's school.
"There will be over-crowded classrooms I fear. Especially in areas in the early elementary grades where we need to be really focused on reading skills, helping our students to build that strong foundation in the fundamental subjects, reading and mathematics. It is going to be very difficult to do that when you don't have a permanent teacher," Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister wants to work towards new high academic standards in math and English language arts. She is also working on the school report card accountability system. Elementary, middle school, and high school will see less testing next year. She also wants to provide professional development support to teacher teachers and leaders.