- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

EDMOND, Okla. (AP) - The Republican and Democratic contenders to become Oklahoma’s top education official both endorsed pay raises for teachers and a reduction in the number of tests public school students must take every year during a public forum on Monday.

Longtime educator and Democratic nominee John Cox and former Board of Education member and Tulsa Republican Joy Hofmeister discussed education issues before about 150 people, mostly students, at the University of Central Oklahoma.

The two candidates are seeking to replace Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, who Hofmeister defeated in the June GOP primary.

Oklahoma teachers, consistently among the lowest paid in the country, haven’t received a pay raise in seven years. This year an estimated 25,000 teachers, students and parents amassed at the state Capitol to call for an increase in school funding.

Cox said he would immediately begin pushing for an increase in starting pay for a first-year teacher from $31,600 to a minimum of $35,000, although he acknowledged even higher pay is needed to recruit more teachers.

Hofmeister agreed that increasing teacher compensation was a priority, and said she would address pay as part of an eight-year plan for improving education in Oklahoma.

“We aren’t funding education like we’re investing in the future of our children,” Hofmeister said. “We need to do that in a way that is responsible to the taxpayers.”

The two also criticized the growing number of tests that Oklahoma students are required to take, especially high-stakes reading tests for third-graders and end-of-instruction tests for high school students.

Cox said teachers across the state are growing weary of teaching students for tests, and that a student’s advancement to another grade or graduation from high school shouldn’t be completely dependent on a test score.

“We overtest in every grade,” Cox said. “Let’s get back to trusting teachers again.”

Hofmeister was especially critical of new third-grade reading tests that require students to read at a minimum level before advancing to fourth grade.

“One test on one day shouldn’t determine the future of a student, especially a third-grader,” Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister knocked off Barresi and teacher Brian Kelly in dominating fashion in a June Republican primary, defeating the incumbent in all 77 of the state’s counties. Barresi actually finished third in 71 counties.

Cox finished first among a four-candidate field in the June Democratic primary, but couldn’t top the 50-percent mark to avoid a primary runoff. He defeated longtime educator Freda Deskin in the August primary runoff.

Hofmeister reported raising about $616,000 for her race so far, compared to about $300,000 for Cox, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .

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