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By Connie Johnson
In issuing Executive Order 2022-1 Tuesday, allowing almost 32,000 non education credentialed state employees to opt to serve as substitute teachers in Oklahoma’s K-12 schools, the Governor has created an untenable situation for our children’s futures.
Contrastingly, he has yet to reveal any plan for returning qualified educators to the classrooms, such as creating an incentive allotment, with a stated goal of a six-figure salary for teachers who concentrate on teaching in high needs learning areas and with students with exceptionalities, or for teachers in rural districts.
In 2021, Oklahoma ranked 47th overall among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in Education Week’s annual rankings. The lack of qualified teachers will likely show up in Oklahoma’s future quality indicators.
Consequences of governor’s executive order
The short term consequences of Executive Order 2022-1 are the impediments to operations in numerous state offices, and perpetuation of the COVID surge in schools.
For example, walking into the State Department of Health Vital Statistics Division to obtain a birth or death certificate is no longer possible. These vital records are only obtainable online, which means that persons with little to no broadband service, or those unable to navigate the process, will now potentially be denied access altogether. Even when the online process works, Oklahomans are having to wait six weeks or more to receive vital records. Allowing a reduction in staff in this single area is disingenuous.
According to OU Health, Oklahoma’s child COVID hospitalization rate is triple what it was this time last year, with a record three-day average of 43 pediatric hospitalizations statewide last Thursday, up 30 from a month ago. Adding a new set of people to the environment fails to acknowledge the severity of viruses.
The long term consequences are that, as the pandemic-related loss of teachers continues, more untrained state employees may leave their posts to fill school spots. The inevitable potential result is that a significant percentage of our school teachers will eventually be replaced by non-educators.
Gov.’s EO a “slap in the face” to professional educators
Allowing state employees into school buildings does nothing to address the ongoing threat of sexual predators in schools already. Yesterday, for example, a Guthrie public school teacher was arrested for having an inappropriate relationship with a student.
Shuttling unqualified personnel to already underperforming schools represents a bandaid-over-a-bullet-hole approach that will mean even more pandemic related absences and frustrated staff resignations. It is a slap in the face to professional educators. In a few months, our schools—teachers, students and parents—will likely continue in the current conditions that the executive order attempts to address.
Finally, by failing to acknowledge the potential pay discrepancy between current substitute and state employee pay rates, the order creates the potential for disgruntlement among co-workers.
The pandemic has crippled each and every state agency. In fact, the entire state is reeling from the pandemic. None of us has the perfect solution. We all get it, and understand that parents need to be able to return to work to ensure our state’s economic recovery; however, fundamental questions remain to be answered.
Potential impacts of governor’s decision
What will be the fiscal and practical impact on state agencies from which employees will transfer from their current positions to substitute teach?
Will already overworked and underpaid state employees now have even more put on their plates to compensate for lost staffing?
Whether and to what extent did the administration rely on or consult with school administrators to explore all available options in order to create the plan that best serves students and families?
What consideration was given to other options or combinations of strategies allowing local districts to determine what works best for their communities?
Is it credible for Oklahomans to trust this administration and others, who appear repulsed by the idea of putting their own children in Oklahoma’s public schools, to advocate for the best interests of public school students?
Our children and our state deserve better leadership and solutions that acknowledge the requisite skills, knowledge and abilities inherent in good educators; that respect and value state employees in the positions for which many have worked for years, creating a qualified state employee workforce; that guarantee requisite funding for education; that acknowledge and incorporate long-term technology solutions that enhance virtual learning as an alternative; and that reflect and build upon Oklahoma values about education, work and strong families.
Connie Johnson is a former Oklahoma state Senator and a Democratic candidate running for Governor of Oklahoma.
Editor’s note: The Black Wall Street Times welcomes op-ed submissions from any gubernatorial candidates, regardless of party affiliation.