Top Ten in Underfunding: Education in Oklahoma
Schools are the cornerstone of our communities. This is apparent in cities like Stillwater, where the university is our largest employer, and its students make up half of our population. In addition, education stimulates economic growth and creates opportunities for Oklahomans to seek highly skilled and highly paid jobs. But on a more foundational level, schools are where we learn how to be citizens, neighbors, and friends. Schools are where many of us discover our passions and begin dreaming about where we want those passions to lead us. And education gives us the skills to pursue those dreams.
After the Teacher Walkout in 2018, we saw firsthand how parents and communities rallied around teachers: supporting their decision to walk out, joining them at the Capitol, and electing them into office to make a change. The state made steps in the right direction at that time, but we continually fail to acknowledge that funding is a moving target that we must address every year.
For years, our state has underfunded education. As other states nurture their public schools, giving districts the resources to innovate and attract talented teachers with competitive pay, Oklahoma has responded with cuts. Because we can still manage to operate at this starvation level, many opponents of increasing spending believe that school funding should stay where it is. But we are losing teachers at a rate faster than we can hire new ones, and districts are forced to make difficult choices every day because of tight budgets. No one denies that education is expensive, but our inadequate funding leaves teachers and students with less than they deserve and Oklahoma falling behind. In our own lives, what we prioritize will be present in our checkbooks; why should the state budget be any different? If our state values education, we must be willing to put our money where our mouth is.
Let’s utilize our neighborhood schools as vessels to serve our communities. Right now, school districts feel the pressure to provide services to their communities, further stretching their already tight budgets. So let’s start with adequately funding education so the districts can focus on delivering quality education to students. Let’s then invest in public health so students and families can get the physical and mental health services they need, and let’s work with local partners to help parents obtain their GEDs. If schools are the cornerstone of our communities, we should use that to our advantage.
Properly funding education is an investment in our kids’ futures and the future of our state, but legislation regarding education isn’t just about funding. How are schools going to utilize these resources once they have them? What services are we going to provide to our students and families? How do we make schools more inclusive? These decisions need the input of people who have worked in schools, taught students, and understand their communities.
We can still correct the course we are on to create a more educated, more successful Oklahoma by taking into account the input of the stakeholders in our schools - teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Our current system is not out of our control; it is of our own making. However, we have to understand that the approach to fixing our education system is one that will take years of nurturing, listening, and passing legislation that addresses real issues.