Let’s hope if the grand education summit suggested by state Rep. Lewis Moore (R-Arcadia) ever materializes it will do more than focus on cutting school and college funding, a focus that seems to be the basis for the idea.
Last week, Moore, pictured right, announced he wants a summit before the next legislative session that would include Gov. Mary Fallin and state education leaders. It would focus on what Moore apparently called Oklahoma’s “bloated” education system, according to media reports.
This proposal comes just as schools and higher education are facing steep cuts again this school year. These cuts are apparently not enough for some in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Here are three things for the summit participants to consider:
(1) Oklahoma continues to have some of the most underfunded schools in the country. The state is last in regional funding behind Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado. A report published in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics listed Oklahoma as 49th in the nation in education funding. The state has a systemic funding problem for education and because of recent cuts it’s only getting worse. Cutting education funding right now-unless an overall budget shortfall dictates it-would be irresponsible
(2) The state continues to pay teachers low salaries when compared to the national average. According to the website of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the state ranks 48th in the nation in teacher salaries. Getting paid some of the lowest salaries in the nation has to be demoralizing for teachers here. I hope the summit participants consider this a pressing issue and suggest ways to improve teacher salaries beyond just merit pay.
(3) Oklahoma needs more college graduates. The Lumina Foundation for Education reports that 31.3 percent of Oklahomans hold two- or four-year college degrees. The national average is 37.9. In Massachusetts, the average is 49.6. If summit participants actually consider closing some college branches, it should keep in mind that Oklahoma needs to do everything it can to increase its number of college graduates. That should mean making college classes accessible and affordable throughout the state.
In his comments related to the proposed summit, Moore indicated he thinks the state has too many school districts, university branches and CareerTech institutions, according to a media report. He also said ” . . . common ed needs help, but they’re asked and tasked to do a lot of things besides teach. Some of those things could be picked up by churches, church involvement, neighborhood involvement, parental involvement for sure,” the report states.
It’s difficult to tell if Moore is well intentioned about improving education systems here, but his ideas, as reported in the media, seem to be rooted in closing down educational facilities and letting churches and the somewhat nebulous “neighborhood involvement” deal with the myriad and complicated problems faced by many schools in Oklahoma. Those problems include teaching students who live in poverty and with family dysfunction and little parental involvement. It’s difficult to teach students who are hungry or worried about domestic violence at their home. Shutting down schools and colleges seems counter intuitive to improving education here, especially since school district consolidation is ongoing and the state needs as many college graduates as possible.