We’re Number 44! Let’s Give Our Policy-Makers an F

The Education Week Quality Counts report card on American public schools is out and Oklahoma ranks 44th in per-pupil spending.

I had high hopes that Oklahoma’s embarrassing ranking would be a call to action by our lawmakers to increase school funding. What business, what family, what organization wants to come to a state that doesn’t fund its public schools? And what teacher would want to teach in Oklahoma? We also have a teacher shortage. Hmmm. Could there be a connection?

Rather than stepping up and calling for decent school funding, we have two Oklahoma Legislators, Reps. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Tom Newell, R-Seminole, who want to funnel public school money to private schools by providing funds for poor children to go to private schools. Well, there’s an idea. Not a good idea, but an idea.

It almost sounds reasonable until you start thinking about it.

It’s wrong-headed on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. I guess the first point might be that it’s unconstitutional.

Next, they’re making a huge leap of logic. Their premise is that schools in high poverty areas are bad; therefore, if these same students were able to go to a private school, they would be better students. This is simply not the case.

How many students would this bill actually help? Are there private schools in every community in Oklahoma? What if I live in Perkins, Oklahoma? Would I be driving my child to Tulsa or Oklahoma City to go to school every day? Are these legislators aware of the number of children who live in poverty just in Tulsa? What if the number of parents who want to send their children to private schools exceeds the available private school classroom space? A voucher system would open the door for educational corporations to come to Oklahoma to establish for-profit schools with our tax dollars. Oh, maybe that’s the point. It could be what Reps. Nelson and Newell wish to do.

I assume the parents would be responsible for their children’s transportation to and from school. Transportation is often difficult for families living in poverty.

Also, I don’t think that private schools provide free lunch and breakfast.

And would the private schools be required to take every student like the public schools are required to do? I think not.

Not only that, will this money that is being set aside for students to go to private school actually be enough to pay for the tuition? If not, who comes up with the remainder? The parents who are living in poverty?

Before we start diverting public school dollars to private schools, why don’t we try giving public schools a fighting chance by funding them? Putting more mandates on schools while at the same time taking valuable funding away is a recipe for disaster. And diverting public money to private schools will only exacerbate the problem.

Why can’t the Legislature provide funding for the following:

  1. small class sizes;
  2. support for teachers to develop interesting, engaging and challenging curricula;
  3. money for enriching classroom spaces with quality books and materials;
  4. money for higher teacher pay;
  5. extra, meaningful, professional on-going help for students who  struggle with cognitive or physical disabilities;
  6. year-round schools and after-school activities;
  7. specialists for students who are English language learners;
  8. mental health/social services support in every school;
  9. high-quality early education for all children.

Would these things cost money? Yes. But we can do it if we make high quality public education a priority for every child, not just a few.

Categories: Editor’s Blog