You Can Cut Class Size – But It’ll Cost You

This week, parents at Eliot Elementary School, a Tulsa Public School, saved fourth-grade teacher Kristen Nicholson from being reassigned by raising $40,000 to pay her salary and benefits for a year.


Now what?

Kudos to the parents who stepped up when they saw that fourth-grade class sizes would balloon from around 20 kids to around 30 kids. That was unacceptable to the Eliot community, so they pulled together and brought in the cash in a matter of days.

Chris Payne, a spokesman for Tulsa Public Schools was quoted in the Tulsa World as saying “We wish that all of our parents were this engaged,” TPS spokesman Chris Payne said.

I’m sure he didn’t mean for it to sound the way it came across to me. Surely he’s not implying that other public schools could reduce their class sizes if the PTA would just hold a fundraiser and come up with a few hundred thousand dollars to save some teachers — if only the parents cared enough and were engaged enough….

While I’m happy for Eliot and for Kristen Nicholson, the message this act sends is:

  1. Parents at other schools don’t care about their kids because they can’t afford to pay teachers’ salaries.
  2. Pooling funds and paying for a few teachers’ salaries and benefits could actually be cheaper than private school tuition, so why not try it?
  3. The Oklahoma Legislature can continue to slack on their responsibility to fund public schools and to pay teachers a decent salary because parents (or maybe some generous foundations) will step up and pay those salaries.
  4. Gov. Fallin can continue in her quest to cut taxes so no public services will be properly funded, including common education. We’ll just figure out another way to get that money, which is, by the way, OUR money because we the people pay taxes.
  5. Public schools are not equal. It does matter which neighborhood you live in. If you live in a higher socio-economic area, your school will have more financial support than if you live in a lower socio-economic area. Not only because of property taxes, but also because parents with more money can give more to their schools. They can even pay the teachers’ salaries.
  6. If this is going to be how we deal with growing class sizes, we are setting ourselves on a course to expend valuable time, resources and energy each year to fundraising for teachers’ salaries and benefits. Nicholson was only “saved” for a year. Will the parents continue to pay teacher salaries next year? And the year after that?
  7. The more insidious message is that deep class inequities and divisions exist. Those who can pay get a better learning environment, even when it comes to public education. We should be to providing high quality public education (not charters because they don’t educate ALL children) to children no matter where they live, and schools should not be put in the position to either pay for extra teachers’ salaries or have their children crammed into overcrowded classrooms. (Whatever happened to HB 1017, anyway?)

It’s great for Eliot that the parents were able to come together and save a teacher for a year. But what happens now?

I hope the Eliot parents will use this as a teachable moment for their children. They have shown that they care deeply about their children’s school. I hope they are now telling them about the importance of education and how it lifts up all of us. Show them that you care enough about the class sizes and the underfunded schools across the state to write, email or call your legislators. Show them that you care enough to find out which politicians really will fund public education and vote accordingly.

Parents made a big difference in a short time at one little elementary school in Tulsa. Think what big things we could do if we all worked together to create amazing school environments for every child in the state.

Categories: Editor’s Blog