I am a parent.
My daughter is in preK and embarking on her school years. That means that I am embarking on my journey as a public school parent. It can be a scary place, wanting the best for my daughter but not always knowing what I can do to support and help her school. In Oklahoma, public education is in a scary place. It is a new passion of mine to do what I can to make the next 13 years of my daughter’s school career the best it can be. It is painfully obvious that the majority of our elected officials don’t seem to be listening to educators these days…. but they need to start listening to parents.
As a parent, I believe in the power and importance of public education. A community’s future depends on the education of its citizens. Maybe 100 years ago, public schools had a different role than they do today. But in our global society, public schools serve the needs of all students and families. For many students, school is the safest place they can be and the best hope to build a future for themselves.
Public school can and should be:
- a place where students feel safe, challenged, and encouraged
- a place where students are able to make mistakes and be creative
- a place where they learn how to get along with their peers but also how to work collaboratively with them, even when they disagree or don’t get along
- a place where students are exposed to not only the foundations of reading, writing, and arithmetic but also exposed to innovative ideas and engaging learning opportunities in all content areas
- a place where parents, communities, teachers, and administrators work together, striving for the best interest of all students but also the best student of each student
Currently in Oklahoma, the state aid for schools is approximately $3,000 per pupil. That breaks down to about $17 a day per pupil. Last time I checked, most teenage babysitters charge $15-20 an hour. (edited to clarify…because we don’t get out much I gladly pay $15-20).
I am sure there are a ton of complicated formulas and other factors, but as a parent, I am not an expert in school funding.
Can someone help me understand why we currently have the lowest per pupil funding in over 5 years? Or why Oklahoma remains the lowest in our regional per pupil funding? Or why although we have steadily increased in the number of students in our schools, we have had the highest percentage of education funding cuts in the nation?
Since I don’t understand, I have had several conversations with administrator and experts in local schools to help me understand. The only answer we can come up with is that Public Education is not a priority for our elected officials. Or put more simply, the education of our states future generation and future leaders is not a priority for the majority of men and woman we have elected to represent us at the Capital in OKC.
Our school superintendent and Governor like to blame the cuts on everything from the recession to ObamaCare. They do brag that even in the midst of a struggling budgets, they increased the public school budget last year. What they fail to mention, is that because OK had an INCREASE in the number of students in the public schools there was a DECREASE in the per pupil funding, even with the increase budgeted by the legislator in 2013.
I know that throwing money at schools is not the answer, but as a parent, I am pretty sure that this great state can do better than 17 Dollars a day. Yes, local taxes and federal dollars supplement state aid, which increases our per pupil funding overall to about $8,500. But even with those added, OK is still lowest in the region by at over $1,000 per pupil.
As parents, we can ALL tell our stories and urge our legislator and state leadership to start limiting or removing some of the unfunded, underfunded, and harmful (based on years of educational research) reforms like:
- The retention clause of the Reading Sufficiency Act. Although this law has been in place for almost a decade, in 2011 the OK legislature added the retention clause that removes a parents voice from the process. In all of its years of implementation, RSA has never been fully funded. This year, schools received about 30$ per qualified student to implement one of the most overreaching reforms our state has seen. Supporting and intervening as a student learns to read it vital. It my daughter struggles over the next few years, I know it is my job to work with her teachers to support her however I can. Retention is not an evil thing. But a crucial part of making retention successful is parental support and by-in. RSA can work, but it has to involve all parties without high stakes. By the way, I have yet to ever see any article that shows me that a standardized test is even a good way to improve my child’s learning. Still not convinced, ask a third grade teacher how they feel.
- High Stakes End Of Instruction tests for High School students. Colleges don’t care if students pass these exams. Neither do vo-techs, welding schools, beauty colleges, or any other job or post high school training that our high school grads will face. No one cares. All the EOIs seem to do is stress out students and teachers, give the SDE data to crunch, and make some students feel like dropping out might be their best option. Companies and colleges want employees who can think, problem solve, adapt, and communicate clearly. How many EOIs test those skills?
- TLE and other teacher evaluation systems based on test scores and faulty value added calculations. People are complex beings. Schools are complex communities. Teacher evaluations, based on test scores and value added models, do little to harness the complexity that is a student or school. It doesn’t improve student achievement, but it does drive good teachers out of education.
- A/F School Report Cards. As a parent, this is probably one of the most embarrassing things about public education in Oklahoma. It is painfully obvious to almost every parent I have talked to that this system means nothing. A parent knows how their child’s school is doing. If they don’t, I am sure all public schools would welcome a parent to come spend time in the building, see what is going on, and get involved in their child’s education. All the A/F Report Card does is label and degrade schools by things that are out of their control. It is a fickle system and even that coveted A’s could easily be B’s or C’s next October based on the faulty statistics used. This recent article in the Tulsa World is a great example.
- Tax Cuts! Budgets are tight statewide and tax cuts are not the solution that is best for Oklahoma. Many departments are facing cuts again this year including DHS, Prisons, Mental Health, and transportation. The tax cuts proposed this year will net less than 80$ in the pocket of the 80% of Oklahomans. Tax cuts are not proven to stimulate the economy or provide for lasting growth. OK Policy does a great job of breaking down this issue and how it impacts Oklahoma.But…What can we as parents do?
Contact your legislators. Most of our elected officials DO listen to citizens. But remember, they also hear from paid lobbyists from mega-corporations who push for laws that profit their bosses. That is why it is VITAL for citizens to contact them. There are so many issues that they need to hear from REAL PARENTS about. Remember, most legislators don’t have children in public schools, so they don’t realize what is truly happening within our public schools. We have to tell our stories! Go here to find contact information for your legislators. It sounds intimidating, but you can do it. You can either email or call. If you are adventurous, get a group of friends together and head up to the capital to chat with them. You are a tax payer. They represent you. Tell them how you feel.
- Make your message short and sweet
- Say where you are from
- Be passionate, but not crazy or extreme
- Tell why you are against it, how it affects your children
- No threats, just show your concerns
- Ask them to propose and/or support laws that fix the problem (taken from a TN Parent Group’s page)
Follow groups like Tulsa Parents Legislative Action Committee (PLAC), Central OK PLAC, Sand Springs PAAT, Cleveland Co PLAC, Pontatoc County PLAC, Oklahoma PTA. We are trying to get as much information out to parents as possible so YOU can know where YOU stand on the issues and how those issues impact YOUR children and family. When important bills are being heard in the house or senate, we try to get the word out so you can contact those voting on it. Last week, parents and educators rallied and as a result, the voucher bill was defeated in committee. Our voices were heard. It works. It is empowering.
Join with educators at the Capital on March 31st. Parents voices are IMPORTANT and POWERFUL. This rally is not just for teachers and administrators. PARENTS can rally for their children just like teachers can rally for their students. If you are unsure how this impacts your school, set up a time to meet with your principal. Ask other parents. Attend PLAC meetings (like the one in NORMAN on MARCH 4th). If your school board has voted to send representative teachers instead of the dismissing school for the day, adopt a teacher to represent at the Capital.
Here is my story. My reason for speaking out.
This is Dani. She is our world. She is the child for whom we prayed. She is half princess, half superhero. She is creative, loving, inquisitive, and a tad ornery. As of today, she wants to be a princess superhero when she grows up. She loves to read books and tell stories. Frozen is her favorite movie (of course) and she loves the idea that she doesn’t need a prince to be strong. Now that she is in school, a whole new world is opening up to her. She was telling me the other day all about the books her teacher is reading to her and the songs she is learning in music class. It is my responsibility and honor to advocate so her learning experiences in public school are amazing and she can be a Superhero Princess or anything else she wants to be.