In 1996, hundreds of thousands of advocates from across the country rallied in Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the importance of ensuring that every child, regardless of background, graduates from high school, prepared for and with access to a college education. Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks stood before of the crowd and offered these inspiring words: “If I can sit down for justice, you can stand up for children!”
The result of that rally was the birth of Stand for Children, an organization that now operates in 11 states, including Oklahoma. It also sparked a national movement for education reform to ensure a promise — one rooted in the belief that a quality education is the foundation upon which our childrens' dreams rest and upon which Oklahoma's future economic viability is built. It's also a promise that our organization is committed to Oklahoma classrooms, making certain that for every child, education will be the key that unlocks a lifetime of limitless possibilities.
As a parent and former school board member, I understand the unique challenges faced by Oklahoma's schools. The public education system can be a study in contradictions; on the one hand, Oklahoma has one of the strongest early childhood programs in the nation, but at the same time, the K-12 education budget has been reduced by more than 20 percent since 2008.
Over the past several years, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed significant bipartisan reform that we know will make a real difference in student achievement. This is great news not only for the future prosperity of Oklahoma children, but to the business community whose workforce needs are met when we ensure students are graduating with the skills and education necessary to compete in a global economy.
Stand for Children supports reforms aimed at ensuring children are reading on grade level by third grade, challenging curriculum that prepares students for 21st-century jobs, and ensuring Oklahoma seniors meet high school graduation testing requirements, stronger and better evaluation of our teachers, and school choice that ensures accountability and rigor in our public charter schools. But we must make strategic investments that actually reach the classrooms. Having traveled the state and visited with lawmakers in rural and urban districts, I'm optimistic about the strong commitment to ensuring this legislative session brings those much-needed investments for implementation.
Oklahomans expect our tax dollars to be invested wisely in policies that matter for our collective future. Recently, we've seen growth in state revenue — and this legislative session we'll bring a laser-like focus to ensuring investments in education reach our classrooms, make a difference in student achievement and put our state on a path to economic success for generations to come. Together, we can face the tough challenges ahead and put our children and Oklahoma's future first.
Hunt is executive director of Stand for Children Oklahoma.