Gov. Stitt Reflects On The COVID-19 Pandemic, Looks To The Future In State Of The State Address


Monday, February 1st 2021, 1:58 pm
By: LeighAnne Manwarren


OKLAHOMA CITY -

The COVID-19 pandemic, the state's economy and the state's future were all major topics in Gov. Kevin Stitt's third State of the State address on Monday.

It has been 332 days since the first COVID-19 patient was reported in the state by the Oklahoma State Health Department.

In his address, Stitt mentioned how the turnaround is underway for Oklahoma to become a "Top Ten" state, but he first reflected on the historic COVID-19 pandemic and how state leaders in 2020 positioned the state for a bright future.

"Oklahoma, the state of our state is strong because we are resilient and well-positioned for a bright future," he said.

Related Video: WATCH: Gov. Stitt's State of the State Address

He expressed his gratitude to the front line health care workers and the state health department for their hard work in the last 11 months.

Because of the hard work of public health workers in state, Oklahoma is seventh in the nation in vaccines administered per capita, Stitt said.

"My vision is to get our summer back, and we can do it by continuing to lead the nation in vaccinations," Stitt said.

Stitt also expressed his desire for Oklahoma schools to reopen to allow students to have in-person learning.

"Distance learning is perfectly fine for some students, but when we force it on everyone, it widens achievement gaps and jeopardizes our future as a Top Ten state," Stitt said. "Our kids deserve the option to be in their classrooms. I promise to keep fighting for our students every day."

Stitt said Oklahoma found the right balance between protecting public health and protecting Oklahomans' right to provide for their families.

The state fully reopened on June 1, and Stitt said it helped keep the state's unemployment down and avoid huge budget deficits.

"Back then, I said by reopening safely and responsibly, we’d be months ahead of other states. Our June unemployment rate was fifth lowest in the country – 40% lower than the national average – and almost 60% lower than New York," Stitt said.

For the 2021 legislative session, Stitt said the "people's agenda" has three main pillars:

  1. Make Oklahoma a top 10 state for business
  2. Deliver taxpayers more for their money
  3. Invest in our fellow Oklahomans.

"We’ve been aggressive. We’re reaching out to companies in states that are keeping businesses locked down and dictating their citizens’ personal freedoms," Stitt said.

Now is the opportunity to rethink and reimagine the future of education in Oklahoma, Stitt said.

In the address, he mentioned eliminating the practice of "ghost students" where districts pick the highest number of students over the last three years to get funding from the state. He said more than 55,000 "ghost students" or about $200 million in state tax dollars are being used for students who don't exist.

He also stressed the importance of in-person learning again.

Looking more broadly into the future, Stitt discussed Medicaid expansion and the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

Stitt said Oklahoma is reimagining health care delivery in the state and how 40 states are also using managed care.

"It’s not a red state or blue state thing. It’s the smart thing to do," Stitt said. "In fact, every other state with Medicaid expansion also uses managed care. Every other state."

Stitt announced partnerships with private health insurances last week.

As for the Supreme Court ruling, Stitt said he has invited the leaders of Oklahoma's sovereign tribes to work with the State of Oklahoma.

"Together, we must create the certainty, fairness and the unity we’ve enjoyed since 1907," Stitt said. "Where we go from here will define the state’s future. We have a shared responsibility to live as one Oklahoma regardless of your race or where you live. We drive on the same roads; our kids go to the same schools and we benefit from the same programs."

Stitt also touched on how the state's infrastructure is developing, how the recognized the legislature for their "fiscal prudence," and how the state is evolving from antiquated rules.

"Oklahomans hired me to bring a fresh set of eyes to all areas of our state government," Stitt said. "As governor, I can’t stand by and continue with business as usual when the system isn’t working."