It is time to restore respect for public education. Successful democracies demand educated, engaged, and informed voters. So, it’s vital that we provide a quality public education to all students. After all, they will grow up. They will vote. And they will lead.
The last decade has provided a sorry track record for public education. At a time when we added 50,000 new students, we also cut state funding by 28%. In fact, Oklahoma cut more than any other state in the country. We didn’t have the money, so we quit funding school librarians and library books. We cut funds for classroom resources. We quit funding new textbooks, and now our books are years behind our state tests. We rolled back the reforms created by House Bill 1017. Today we have nearly twice as many kids in our classrooms as allowed by HB 1017. To add insult to injury, we label understaffed, under resourced, and underappreciated teachers as “failures.” And we force those overburdened teachers to take on a second job just to make ends meet. Is it any wonder that our teachers are changing careers and leaving our state?
Let’s be clear. Teachers haven’t failed. Our legislature failed them! The fact that we still have successful schools is a testament to the perseverance of our public school teachers and the love they have for our kids. It's no wonder other states want to steal our teachers!
In 2018, our legislature finally made a down payment for a better future. However, our state is still grossly underfunding the state funding formula &emdash; the process that distributes school funding across the state. Districts with high property values don’t need the money, but the poor ones are desperate for those funds. The result is we have become a state of educational “haves” and “have nots”. That's the same sorry situation we were in during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, we prevented a court takeover by creating the state funding formula. Today, we are right back where we started. Kansas public schools have already been taken over by the courts. We don't want to be next.
Oklahoma CAN lead the nation in public education. In fact, we already have the best career tech education system in the country. Now it's time to match that with the best public education in the country. It's time to make public education our top priority. It's time to learn from states that are leading the nation. And it's time include teachers as expert partners as we move forward.