BY SHARON MARTIN
“We know that a majority of the jobs created in the next decade will require either a college education or a career certificate from one of our Career Technology centers,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in her State of the State Address. “That’s why we have set a goal to increase the number of college graduates from 30,500 degrees and certificates awarded annually to 50,900.”
One can only suppose that her plan to improve graduation results has something to do with spending less on education.
Oklahoma, along with Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and North Carolina, made up the bottom five states in terms of per pupil education expenditure in 2009. In 2011, Oklahoma cut the state budget for education by 4% to $3.5 billion. The 2012 budget cuts it even farther, to $3.4 billion.
Money doesn’t solve every problem, but education requires funds for well-trained teachers, and enough of them that students aren’t packed into classes like so many salted fish.
Children need good books to read and certified librarians, but requirements for school libraries have been softened along with those for class size.
Money that schools need is siphoned off with ill-advised voucher plans and ever more expensive tests that tell us very little except how a child fares on a given day against every other child in the country.
Education is only one part of the equation. Children have basic needs that must be met before we can even begin to educate them.
In Oklahoma, 24.7% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty. Some of them have shoes and winter coats. Some don’t. Many have some sort of roof over the head. Many don’t. Some eat regularly because family members and church groups see to it. Others rely on school meals to get by.
Public schools, our exceptional career and technology programs, and social programs have all had their budgets sacrificed to the gods of smaller government.
Meanwhile, legislators and the governor talk out of both sides of their mouths, set laudable goals, and then strip away the resources we need to meet those goals.
The state owes $294 million over the next three years, almost twice the amount projected, to cover tax rebates to oil and gas producers for drilling. Wouldn’t drillers drill anyway? What about broken promises to National Board Certified teachers. What about the children?
Despite the rhetoric, education and the needs of children are at the bottom of the list of priorities in our state.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer