It would seem the time is here to add a verse to our state song “Oklahoma” with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein. In addition to the “wind sweeping down the plain” and “watching hawks making lazy circles” we should add “Oklahoma ranking forty-eighth in educational quality.”
In January 2015 Education Week gave Oklahoma a D+ in its annual ranking of educational quality indicators according to its Quality Counts K-12 Achievement Index. Considering school finance, Oklahoma received another D+ and a ranking of forty-three in low student expenditure.
What drives these low ranks? Education funding, or lack thereof, by our state legislators and governor.
How do these low scores and budget shortfalls affect your child, your grandchild, the future of an employable workforce, and the allure of admirable school districts to industry? In an interview with The Tulsa World, State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister predicts a future of school closings and reduced teaching staffs in school districts across the state.
These measures mean more students per classroom and less individualized instruction for our children. Valuable classes are cut from curriculum. Last August, Tulsa lost twenty percent of its certified work force. In July 2015, the state received 525 emergency teaching certification requests in a two month time span. The previous year, only 506 requests were made. These requests were not primarily for specialized curriculum; they were for elementary and early childhood classes. “Border hiring” of Oklahoma’s educators is common as teachers leave for the higher salaries of neighboring state districts. The rate of early teacher retirement is increasing.
Of those who remain in their district and in their profession, most financially bear the burden of supplying their classroom from personal incomes that have not seen significant increases in several years.
What is the solution to this complex crisis in Oklahoma education? We are. Although highly controversial, the Oklahoma grading system A-F for schools perhaps should be applied to the funding entities. What grade should be given for consistently underfunding education. Talk to a teacher. Ask how to help them. Listen to their frustrations. Talk to school board members.
Write a letter, send an e-mail, call your state senator, state legislator, and your governor. Their responsibility is to adequately fund education. Check the voting records of your politicians and vote accordingly. Our children and our tax payers deserve better than a D+, forty-eighth ranking. When we reach dead last, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.
Phyllis A. Rustin