Jena Nelson Addresses Public Funding, Other Priorities For State Superintendent Race

On Wednesday, we caught up with State Superintendent candidate Jena Nelson to ask her what issues her campaign is focusing on leading up to election day.

Wednesday, October 26th 2022, 6:12 pm

By: Chris Yu


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Fresh off their first debate, and with less than two weeks before election day, state superintendent candidates Jena Nelson and Ryan Walters continue to highlight their priorities if elected.  

News 9 already spoke with Walters about his goals. On Wednesday, News 9 caught up with Nelson to discuss hers. 

Nelson, an English teacher at Classen SAS Middle Schools, has 17 years of experience in education and was 2020's Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. In addition, she said she served on national and state committees that deal with mental health, career readiness and food insecurity. 

"I believe that public education is saving lives," said Nelson. "And I have made my whole career dedicated to that principal and making sure that we can elevate and celebrate our educators, but also helping the children of Oklahoma. That's my track record." 

Nelson and Walters differ on several key issues, highlighted by Tuesday evening's debate. One is the topic of school vouchers, which would give public money to families for private school tuition. Walter said he supports vouchers because they empower parents. 

But Nelson said she does not support vouchers because it's important for public dollars to stay in public schools. 

"When we start taking funding away from our schools, especially our rural schools, then we're closing down a school, we're closing down a community. We're gonna close down small businesses and real estate, and people are going to have to move," said Nelson. "Out in western Oklahoma, they already said they've been consolidated enough, and we got to make sure that no matter where people live in Oklahoma, that they have a public school that is fully funded so that their kids will have every opportunity to be successful." 

Nelson said she also disagrees with Walters' stance on the teaching of history. Walters said during the debate that the state is doing a poor job educating students about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Walters said he wants to have a private conservative liberal arts college in Michigan train teachers in Oklahoma. 

“I’ve already started conversations with Hillsdale College to get some of their courses here available for every history teacher in the state, so our teachers know our history, have access to the best professional development available, the best materials available to teach American history without indoctrination," Walters told News 9. 

Nelson said during the debate she believes in the Constitution and teaching all history. But Nelson said training from Hillsdale College would be akin to indoctrination. Nelson added that history teachers in Oklahoma are doing a fantastic job. 

"There were laws passed that required every student to pass a civics course, a civics test in order to graduate. So we're spending a lot of time talking about Oklahoma history," Nelson told News 9. 

Another key topic in education is House Bill 1775, which prohibits schools from teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to another, or that anyone is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive. The law also prohibits anyone from being discriminated against "or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex, as well as five additional related concepts. 

Although HB 1775 does not mention critical race theory anywhere in its text, some view it as an anti-CRT law. 

The state lowered the accreditation statuses of both Mustang and Tulsa Public Schools after officials determined the districts violated HB 1775. 

"I think that we sure needed a lot more due process. We needed to have a lot more investigations into what happened, and we needed to make sure that we had all of the information present," said Nelson. "Lowering a school's accreditation is a big deal. It hurts our schools, which in turn hurts our educators. It hurts our children. It hurts our communities, and so we have to kind of slow down a little bit to make sure that we have all the information when we're making such a big decision as lowering an accreditation." 

Nelson said another one of her priorities, if elected, is teacher retention, which means focusing on school culture and ensuring educators make a living wage. She said she also wants to improve students' mental health. 

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