Red states cut teacher pay, defund public education, and ban books


Cutting teacher pay

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) reappointed the new state superintendent of public instruction, Ryan Walters, to be secretary of education, giving him nearly complete power over Oklahoma’s education policies. While serving in both positions, Walters will receive two salaries adding up to over $160,000 a year.

The two positions are distinct under state law. The main duty of the state superintendent is to control and direct the state Department of Education, as well as advise the Board of Education and adopt policies and rules for the department…Duties of the secretary of education include oversight of the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, a state agency that handles teacher certification and teacher college accreditation, and generally advising the governor of policy changes or problems with education in the state.

One of Walters’ first acts was to throw out a planned universal teacher pay raise, cutting $60 million from the state education budget in the process. Instead of providing all teachers with a $5,000 raise, Walters is enacting raises for certain teachers “who are highly rated based on their students’ performance, classroom practices, and time spent in professional development.”

“The metrics used to determine merit-based pay are controversial and inequitable,” OEA President Katherine Bishop said. “Our students deserve educators who are compensated and respected as the professionals they are. Previous pay raises for all educators have proven to increase quality candidates to the profession.”

…A chronic teacher shortage persists in Oklahoma. Between 4,200 and 5,300 teachers left the classroom each year from the 2012-2013 school year to 2020-21, according to a 2021 report from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

The newly remade state Board of Education, full of individuals with no public education experience, approved Walters’ funding cuts last week. The new members include an oil and gas CEO, a homeschool teacher, an accounting firm owner, and a pharmacist.

Cutting federal funding

The plan now goes to the legislature for final approval, where it is likely to find a receptive audience given the extreme views of many lawmakers. For example, state Sen. David Bullard (R) recently introduced a bill to phase out the use of federal funding for public education. This would drastically change public education in the state, given that (1) schools receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds per year and (2) the state already takes more from the federal government than it returns.

Rep. Logan Phillips told KFOR that losing federal funding would be devastating for several programs, especially free and reduced lunch programs.

“If we remove the federal funding coming into Oklahoma, which we are already a donor state, meaning we receive more federal funding than we send out, the Oklahoma taxpayer will still be required to send the feds the money,” said Phillips. “We are going to pay twice to get a lesser service for our students if we get rid of this funding.”


Banning books

School teachers in Florida are getting rid of classroom libraries in order to comply with a new law that requires the approval of books by a media specialist.

Teachers describe “fear” and “confusion” as districts implement policies in line with HB 1467, a law that prohibits all books unless deemed appropriate by a librarian or a media specialist certified by Florida’s Department of Education. Violations of HB 1467 can result in a third-degree felony.

In a message sent from the Manatee [County School District] to principals, the material must be “free of pornography” and “appropriate for the age level and group.” New training approved by the State Board of Education also asks media specialists to avoid materials with “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”

Don Falls, a history teacher at Manatee High School, said some of his colleagues have already covered their bookshelves and he plans to join them.

“If you have a lot of books like I do, probably several hundred, it is not practical to run all of them through (the vetting process) so we have to cover them up,” he said. “It is not only ridiculous but a very scary attack on fundamental rights.”

AP African American studies

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced last week that the state is blocking a new college-level AP African American studies course because it violates a law to restrict certain lessons about race in schools.

The state Education Department listed “concerns” in the curriculum, including topics covering “Intersectionality and Activism,” “Black Feminist Literary Theory,” and “Black Queer Studies.”

“Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory?” DeSantis said at a news conference this week. “That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids.”

The law at issue, called the ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ was passed last year and prohibits educators from teaching lessons that may make an individual feel “guilt” or “anguish” due to race, sex, or national origin. While it was originally sold as a ban on teaching critical race theory, the law has generally been used to censor race- and gender-based topics that conservative activists disagree with.

Diversity training

Another part of Gov. DeSantis’ ‘Stop WOKE Act’ bans employers from including concepts that may make an employee feel guilty based on race or gender in mandatory diversity training. While a federal court blocked the portion of the law that applies to private employers last year, DeSantis’ administration is pushing ahead on the ban as it applies to state public universities.

Last month, DeSantis’ director of policy and budget Chris Spencer sent a memo to all state colleges and universities requesting “a comprehensive list of all staff, programs and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory.”

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez (R) revealed in a speech last week that the administration sought the detailed accounting in order to “curb” diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at public higher education institutions.

In a speech that earlier praised the university system for its high rankings and relatively low student debt, Nunez said “real forces” were “undermining the good work taking place” at the state schools.

“These new threats that are creeping and taking hold are things that we need to face,” she said. “I believe one of the biggest threats that’s infiltrating our universities is a permeating culture — one might call it woke culture, one might call it woke ideology, one might call it identity politics…. We don’t need to get into all the names, but I do believe that some of these issues are taking hold. The policies they advocate are based on hate and based on indoctrination.”

The programs that fall under DEI initiatives include classes like “Gender and Climate Change” and “Black Popular Cultures,” as well as training for counseling staff to better treat a diverse student body and offices to recruit and retain faculty from underrepresented backgrounds.

As the Governor prepares his budget to present to the legislature, it is likely these initiatives are on the chopping block.



Eight days into its legislative session, Utah lawmakers passed a bill that shifts $42 million in taxpayer funds from the public education system to unsupervised private and religious schools. The bill, HB 215, ties the governor’s promised $6,000 raise for teachers to a school voucher program that will offer $8,000 per student to go to private schools—twice what the state pays the public schools for each pupil.

Opponents are obviously worried about the cost of the vouchers and the impact on public education funding. [Renée Pinkney, president of the Utah Education Association] also believes the setup furthers inequalities. “When you are taking public dollars away from public schools and giving them to private schools,” she said, “you are creating opportunity gaps for students.”

Utah residents previously rejected a school voucher bill 62% to 37%.

Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed HB 215 into law over the weekend, just days after a school voucher lobbyist declared in leaked comments that she “want[s] to destroy public education.” Allison Sorensen, the executive director of Education Opportunity 4 Every Child, backed HB 215.

“Let’s actually take the money out of the public school system,” Sorensen said in the audio. “We’ll change the way we fund the program so that it literally is pulling that money straight from the school.”

“I can’t say this is a recall of public education even though I want to destroy public education,” she added. “The legislators can’t say that because they’ll just be reamed over the coals.”