The trying times the state of Oklahoma faces with it’s budget and a shocking $1.3 billion deficit should be a wake up call to all Oklahomans.
Wake up call #1 — The Legislature is not doing it’s job and needs to implement common sense, practical reforms to budgeting expenditures with revenues.
Wake up call #2 — The Legislature, with the governor’s leadership, needs to address the state’s education system and do what’s best for our youth by properly funding education, properly paying teachers and cutting out the ridiculous bureaucracy currently plaguing the state’s schools.
A prime example of a common sense reform now making the rounds can be found on the Feb. 25 front page of The Ada News. The Oklahoma Senate is considering a bill that could make life a little easier for high school students. The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 1170, which would eliminate the state mandated tests known as “end-of-instruction exams.”
State law currently requires high school seniors to pass at least four of seven exams to receive their diploma, even if they earned passing grades in all required courses. SB 1170 would allow school districts to choose an assessment that satisfies federal requirements while measuring mastery of Oklahoma’s curriculum.
Translation — less mandated tests for kids.
This is a common sense approach that has been a long time coming. Time and again we’ve heard teachers barely have time to teach valuable lessons because they are always having to prepare students for tests. And more tests. And more mandated tests.
The state of Oklahoma would be well served to reduce all of these mandates as much as possible and turn over the responsibility of educating our kids to the people who know best — school leaders and teachers.
Another issue the Legislature needs to confront and deal with is teacher pay in the state. It has been well documented that many teachers are leaving Oklahoma for jobs with better pay and benefits elsewhere. We commend Gov. Mary Fallin for pursuing a $3,000 a year raise for teachers. The Legislature needs to find a way to make this happen, but sure enough, the idea was almost immediately shot down by legislators, citing tough budget times.
The Legislature needs to make the tough decisions necessary to make a teacher pay raise happen. Part of the reality here is instead of talking about generalities and idealogical mantras like less government, lower taxes etc., the Legislature needs to show actual leadership by cutting all the tax incentives and breaks doled out like candy in Oklahoma City. They are going to have to find a way to generate stable, annual revenue besides depending on local communities to simply keep boosting their local sales tax. This would be one way to find the money to pay for a teacher pay raise.
Reducing the bureaucracy in schools is a start. Getting teachers a pay raise is a start. Being courageous enough to drop ideology and fix the revenue streams for the state coffers is, however, the necessary end goal for legislators. The public should, regardless of their political perspective, encourage our legislators to come up with the necessary fixes and if they do so, reward them with their vote.