Joy Hofmeister

Joy Hofmeister plans to ask the Legislature for teacher raises.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Joy Hofmeister likens Oklahoma’s approach to education to how the state once handled road and bridge work.

“There was a time in our highway and infrastructure system we were chasing problems, building highways three miles at a time,” said Hofmeister, the new state superintendent of public instruction, in a brief interview last week.

All of that changed eight years ago when the state adopted a long-term strategy for improving the roads.

“I’m proposing that we have that kind of long-term plan for education that acts as a road map so that we get out ahead of the problem and lead our state forward to have immediate needs met as well as lingering challenges,” she said.

Hofmeister, who ousted incumbent Janet Barresi in last year’s Republican primary before winning the general election in November, comes into office facing numerous challenges.

Nearly 8,000 Oklahoma third-graders – about 16 percent – failed last year’s reading test, which assesses only basic ability.

The state currently ranks near the bottom in teacher pay and per-pupil spending.

Hofmeister also must oversee the drafting of new education standards, after legislators voted to toss Oklahoma’s version of the much maligned common core during the last session.

Then there’s what she calls an “invalid and unreliable” school grading system, which awards each school an A through F grade based on performance.

Hofmeister said she’ll ask for a $205 million budget increase, which will include raises for teachers.

Legislators will likely be sympathetic, having increased education spending during last year’s session, but they’re staring down a budget shortfall of nearly $300 million and urgent demands from an overcrowded prison system.

Hofmeister said she’ll also focus on revising the school grading system, which is required by state law, by working with researchers to address what she calls “flaws.”

“We need to make sure it is valid and works,” she said. “It should work like a mirror that reflects back accurate information. Instead, what we have is more like a carnival fun house mirror that is wavy. The information it is giving back is distorted.”

She’s hopeful that a new metric will be available by the 2016 legislative session.

Hofmeister, who took the oath of office Jan. 12, has spent her first two weeks focused on those issues while criss-crossing Oklahoma and speaking publicly about the state of education.

Her pitch is that it’s time for the Legislature to invest in a long-term plan for education, just as they did for transportation.

The stakes are high, she said, and not just for students.

“In order to attract business to Oklahoma … (companies) come and look at two things. It is our infrastructure and education,” she said.

In a statement, Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said the group that represents about 40,000 teachers and support professionals looks forward to working with Hofmeister.

The association will push Hofmeister to provide “proper funding” for public education, eliminate high-stakes testing and increasing employee salaries, she said.

“These will be challenging for Superintendent Hofmeister, but we feel she will be a strong part of the solution,” Hampton said. “We have already begun to lay the groundwork for open communication with Superintendent Hofmeister, and we hope to continue to build on that relationship. We all must work together to provide Oklahoma’s students with the support they need and deserve.”

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