Pinnell lays out plan for improving state education during Enid visit

Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell speaks to members of Greater Enid Parent Legislative Action Committee on Thursday at Autry Technology Center. (Mitchell Willetts / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — In his first visit to Enid since taking office, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell spoke to Greater Enid Parent Legislative Action Committee during its monthly meeting Thursday at Autry Technology Center.

Pinnell said improving Oklahoma public schools is a top priority, and he laid out his plan for achieving growth in the area, by focusing on the relationship between education, business and tourism.

“Any business looking to relocate, where are they going to look first? They’re going to look at the schools ... in any state,” Pinnell said.

Good schools help attract businesses and businesses help bring in funding to establish better schools, he said. The two are intertwined.

“We have to create more private sector jobs ... that’s not a short-term solution though,” he said.

A more im­mediate solution Pinnell suggested is putting more emphasis, and funding, into STEM programs.

“We are years behind many other states in STEM education,” he said, adding that science, engineering, technology and math concepts will better prepare students to join the modern work force.

Some wealthier districts, like Jenks Public Schools, where Pinnell’s kids go, have seen parents pool their own money together for things like STEM labs, he said. He wants to see STEM learning opportunities available at all districts, not just the richest.

“That is not a winning formula for the state of Oklahoma, to only depend upon the wealth of moms and dads to create STEM labs,” he said. “If we’re going to train kids to be prepared, whether they’re going to college or not, we need to get STEM going at a much more aggressive pace.”

Pinnell said K-12 school districts and CareerTech centers, like Autry, should work hand in hand.

“About 60 percent of the jobs in the state could be filled by going to one of our CareerTech facilities and getting a certificate within a couple years,” he said. “We don’t have the skills in the work force to meet the demands that employers have.”

At the end of the meeting, Pinnell took questions from the audience. Darrell Floyd, Enid Public Schools superintendent, questioned Pinnell about “the elephant in the room,” what the state will do to address the growing teacher shortage.

“We’re very happy for the infusion of new dollars to education over the last two legislative sessions, much needed ... but even if we had all the money we needed in education right now, there is a teacher shortage that is significant ... we’re going to have to figure that out,” Floyd said. “Right now the pipeline is drying up, there’s not enough kids going into those programs in higher ed, so they’re not there to hire.”

The lieutenant governor said legislators are looking into offering incentives to draw educators into Oklahoma, and finding ways to improve the classroom environment, like reducing class sizes.

“When it comes to teacher pay raises, I don’t think that’s going to completely ease the uptick when it comes to the teacher shortage,” he said. “We’re well aware it’s a problem.”

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Willetts is education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. He can be reached at mwilletts@enidnews.com.

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