- Ada, Oklahoma

March 19, 2014

Education must be top priority

Todd Crabtree Guest Columnist

Byng — Our state legislature has passed numerous school “reform” bills over the last five years, including legislation for an A-F grading system, a new teacher leader evaluation program, as well as a third grade “reading” test in order to enter the fourth grade, to name a few.  

All of these reforms have added additional costs while our legislature has continued to whittle away revenue from the state income tax. In this election year we face a $180 million shortfall in collections with our governor calling for yet another reduction in the state income tax. If this comes to pass, common folk will see a reduction of about $30 while the wealthiest Oklahomans (in the top one percent) will save about $2,000. We are going to spur economic growth and have less money available for services next year!  

In Pontotoc County alone, we have lost in excess of approximately $3 million in state aid revenue to our schools due to the factors being reduced again and again. We are receiving $243.60 per weighted student less than in July 2009. All of us have seen class size continue to increase, even in K-through-third grade.  In 1990, HB 1017 established class size for those primary grades at 20.  All rules and regulations of that landmark legislation, brought to us by then Gov. Henry Bellmon, seem to be of little consequence in today’s legislative chambers. If the funding factors were restored to fiscal year 2009 we could hire the teachers needed to keep class sizes at the level research shows to be optimum. We could employ 70 additional teachers with $3 million! This represents an annual loss! 

Our state aid revenue per student weight has decreased from an average of $2,384.46 to $1,895.82 while our county total weighted average daily membership has grown from $11,280.51 to $12,286.48.  An increase of 1,005.97 student weights in Pontotoc County schools! The verbiage to school folks has been, “Cuts are the new normal.” Cuts due to an economic crisis would be normal, but any cut due to the political adage, “let’s get reelected” is something altogether different.

 Many of our critics have stated that schools just do not want to be held accountable. I assure you our folks are not fearful of accountability that is realistic and where there are dollars provided to support students with the services needed to bring improvement. Florida has been the champion of many of these reforms but they attached resources by hiring hundreds of reading coaches to provide needed individual attention for struggling learners. Many of our legislators want the results of these reforms without paying the price! Testing is a huge part of our accountability. Oklahoma schools were recently required to run a technology speed test to make sure our technology is up to the challenge. It would be nice for us to have that $3 million to upgrade technology in Pontotoc County. We could buy 3,200 computers to replace existing, aging technology. 

We are facing teacher shortages in every teaching field. Veteran baby boomer teachers are retiring and many of newer teachers are simply resigning. Talk is cheap when it comes to attracting the best and brightest to the classroom. Teachers have not had a raise from the state in eight years. Additional dollars must go into the salary scales in order to attract and to retain the best and brightest. 

There seems to be a virus running rampant from state house to state house across our country that is absolutely anti-public education. We need your support. Now. Urgently. Lowering the state income tax may bring growth and additional revenue in the future. Both houses of our state legislature have passed tax cuts for the future. 

How can we pass tax cuts in a year when we have under collected predicted state revenue? We cannot put our students on hold and wait. We have to give the students we have today the best education possible to ready them for the next phase in life, whether that be college, technical training, or career. 

Please tell your representative, senator and Gov. Fallin that educating our students has to truly be top priority!

Todd Crabtree is superintendent of Byng Schools.