Parents Grow Grassroots Group to Save Schools
Once Carnegie Elementary School mom Emily Dunaway realized that her kindergartener would have almost 40 classmates, Emily got busy. She knew that a large class size would have a negative impact on her daughter’s education, not just from the perspective of a parent, but also as a professional with knowledge of the needs of young children. Emily holds graduate degrees in Human Development and Family Science; she has experience as a preschool and a special needs teacher; she serves as adjunct faculty at Oklahoma State University in the College of Human Sciences, and as a Certified Child and Parenting Specialist for Sooner Start.
While the Carnegie PTA parents banded together to pay the salary of one teacher, this was just one crisis, temporarily averted at one elementary school for one year. What would happen to the teachers at other public schools in Tulsa? What would happen to the children in public schools in Oklahoma? These were the questions that literally kept Emily up at night. Just in Tulsa Public Schools alone, funding has dropped almost 12 percent below the 2007 public school appropriation. This means fewer teachers, bigger class sizes, fewer offerings and demoralized parents and teachers.
When Shawna Simpson, president of Tulsa based Moxie Software, learned that Emily wanted to do something to advocate for all children in public schools in Oklahoma, she jumped on board. Shawna, her husband and two young sons live in the Jenks school district and are concerned about the cuts to education. Shawna knows how important education is to the business community. She is a small business owner, creator of Diner Connection, a software platform that is used internationally by the hospitality industry. She received the Journal Record Innovator of the Year award in 2011 and was named an Achiever Under 40 in 2011 as well.
I had breakfast with these two dynamic women this morning, and our breakfast almost went into lunch. Rather than leave the state, which they admit they’ve considered, they want to stay and fight. They love Tulsa, and they want to make Oklahoma a place where families want to stay and where businesses want to locate. As Emily put it, “Somebody’s got to fix it.”
What surprises both of them is that state leaders and policy makers don’t see the economic benefit to having high quality schools, which means funding and supporting public schools. Businesses locate where they can find educated employees and where their employees’ children can go to good schools. As a business owner, Shawna said that she would love to hire state graduates, but she had to go out of state to hire four IT people who are in four different states — she couldn’t find anyone qualified enough to work for her, even though she interviewed Oklahoma college grads from three different Oklahoma universities.
Getting those high quality grads starts before kindergarten. Unfortunately, Oklahoma has chosen to cut funding to the one area in education where we were number 1 — early childhood education — causing us to fall below Florida.
The tagline or mission of Oklahoma Kids First is Educate. Advocate. Motivate. It’s a true grassroots movement begun by parents who care about the future of Oklahoma. If you want to find ways to be involved, go to their website at www.oklahomakidsfirst.org. They also have a Facebook page which you can connect to through the website. While Oklahoma Kids First is about much more than the budget, the organization is reminding parents and interested parties that the Legislature will finalize the current budget in less than a week. If you care to write a letter to your legislator, you can find out how to contact your elected officials on the website.
There is also a Rally to Restore Education Funding on Thurs., April 26 at 6:30 at Edison Preparatory School, located at 41st, west of Harvard.