Candidates meet in only forums before superintendent runoff
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has presented herself as a fierce advocate for public schools who has been willing to battle her own party on issues of teacher pay, education funding and state testing, while her Republican runoff challenger, Linda Murphy, vowed to reduce burdensome regulations that keep too much money with the state Department of Education.
On Friday, just a few days before Tuesday's runoff, both Hofmeister, 53, and Murphy, 66, appeared in two debates, each selling their credentials to lead a public school system that has been squeezed by a decade of funding cuts and rocked by a two-week teacher walkout in April.
"I absolutely supported the right of any teacher ... to protest the governor and their legislators," Hofmeister said about the walkout, speaking at a debate hosted by the journalism website NonDoc and titled "Schoolhouse Rock."
Hofmeister, who is running for a second term, said the walkout was a result of a decade of teacher struggles and a Legislature that ignored their pleas.
She also said the walkout was worth it, even though the teacher pay raise came earlier and most teachers were dissatisfied with the amount of education funding increases approved by lawmakers during the protest.
Murphy, a certified teacher and the Republican nominee for superintendent in 1994 and 1998, criticized Hofmeister for not showing enough leadership during the walkout.
"What I didn't like is the OEA (teachers) union having the mic for 10 days,” Murphy said. “I think the superintendent could have helped" address the "chaos and confusion during the walkout."
The two candidates also met in a forum earlier in the afternoon hosted by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association during its annual conference in downtown Oklahoma City. Hofmeister and Murphy were joined by Democratic nominee John Cox in front of a crowd of hundreds of school board members from across the state.
At both forums Murphy referred often to state and federal regulations on public schools, claiming they keep too much money in Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C., rather than going to local schools.
“Increased regulations have a price that costs districts,” said Murphy, who said new academic standards developed during Hofmeister's term represented "nationalized testing."
Hofmeister pointed to her administration's reduction of state-mandated tests and said the new academic standards were created by Oklahoman teachers.
"That's just absolutely false," Hofmeister said about the idea that Oklahoma has "nationalized testing."
At the NonDoc debate, both candidates were asked about State Question 801, which will be on the November ballot and would allow school districts to use local bond funding for teacher pay.
"I think, overall, (SQ 801) would be an improvement," said Murphy, calling it a local control issue.
"I cannot support it," Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister also was asked about felony charges filed against her in 2016 over campaign finance violations that ultimately were dismissed by the Oklahoma County District Attorney, which Hofmeister said happened because the district attorney saw flaws in the charges.
"I've moved on ... I knew the truth," Hofmeister said.
Murphy said the district attorney could bring them back, but Hofmeister said she is working with Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater on an October summit on childhood trauma, something that would be inappropriate if the matter had not been settled.
On school vouchers, which allow students to use state funding for private school tuition, both Hofmeister and Murphy said they were not in support.
On charter schools, Murphy called them "private-public entities" and criticized the state Board of Education for approving some charter schools over the objection of local school boards.
Hofmeister said she has fought to have greater transparency with charter school funding, some efforts that have not been approved by the state Legislature.