Executive Director of Oklahoma Achieves discusses state chamber’s education reform wins and future goals

Education is a hot topic all across Oklahoma and crucial to the state’s future. The State Chamber of Oklahoma is well aware of this and has formed the organization Oklahoma Achieves to work toward this goal.

“Trying to find a skilled workforce is one area where the business community continues to struggle, so we really wanted to focus on some business-led efforts in education,” said Executive Director Jennifer Monies. 

The organization has two primary objectives. The first is forming a coalition of business leaders that are passionate about improving the education system, and the second is looking at best practices in other states and bringing them to Oklahoma. 

Their efforts have led to some recent legislative victories at the State Capitol, and despite 2018 being a “tough session for education,” Monies provided examples. The first item she discussed was the raise in teacher pay.

“This is something the state chamber has long supported,” Monies said. “We know that in the private sector if we’re not paying a competitive wage, we aren’t going to be able to attract quality employees.” She also pointed out how important a competitive wage is to communities like Ardmore situated near the border.

“You know that if we aren’t paying a competitive wage we see a lot of our teachers go south to Texas,” Monies said. “So that’s going to continue to be an issue here in Ardmore and this entire region.” 

In order to continue the conversation and advance new ideas about teacher wages, one item the state chamber is advocating is a “differentiated pay.” This would allow local communities to have more autonomy and control when it comes to teacher pay. They believe this will help bring the best teachers to work in the subject areas and the schools who need them most.

Another legislative win by the state chamber is the “teacher career ladder.” This will provide three levels of teacher certification: the teaching certificate, the lead certificate and the masters certificate. The two additional certifications would come with a $3,000 and a $5,000 raise respectively.

“Prior to this past legislative session there was only one level of teaching certificate,” Monies said. “Once you became a certified teacher, the only way to move up or get promoted to make more money was to go into administration. So we’re hoping this initiative will give teachers opportunities for promotion while staying in the classroom.”

The downside to this “win” is that in spite of being passed, the legislation was not funded. Oklahoma Achieves plans to fight for funds during the 2019 session and begin pilot programs to see if this helps with teacher shortages.

The final topic covered was education funding reform and how the group is trying to simplify the process.

“It’s incredibly complex,” Monies said. “I always joke that there are five people across the state that really understand how our schools are funded and how I’m trying to become number six. But just know that we are actively working to streamline that process.”

For more information about Oklahoma Achieves and to read the 40 page step-by-step breakdown of school funding visit www.okachieves.org.