Most Oklahomans agree supporting public schools is necessary. After all, what elected official or public person wants to appear to be against giving our children the skills and training they need to succeed in the world? Sadly, that support tends to come in the form of rhetoric rather than action, and for the last 20 or so years our children have paid the price for too much talk and not enough action. Today our students have to share outdated books, use obsolete technology, and sit in classes that grow larger and more crowded with each passing school year. As their access to a quality education fades away, so does their opportunity to compete in an increasingly competitive job market. Unfortunately we cannot depend on most elected officials to adequately fund our children’s future. Special-interest groups don’t want to see their slice of the pie shrink because public money is being prioritized on children. So they try to distract Oklahomans with cherry-picked statistics and increasingly nasty rhetoric usually reserved for Washington, D.C. State Question 744 would release the stranglehold that partisan politics has on our children’s future. It would commit Oklahoma to invest in our children’s future by providing them with the high-quality education they deserve. It would make certain that we don’t have to watch our sons and daughters grow up second to students in every state around us. The facts cannot be denied. Oklahoma invests less in a student’s education than any other state in the region. In 2002, our neighbors in Arkansas increased investment in their students. Arkansas now spends about $2,000 more on each student than we do in Oklahoma. As a result, they’ve seen standardized test scores go up — 35 percent more of Arkansas 11th-graders passed the state’s literacy test in 2009 than did in 2001 — so much so that in 2009, Arkansas ranked 10th in Education Week’s national ranking of student achievement. In case you’re wondering, Oklahoma ranked 25th. Since they cannot reasonably deny achievement is linked to investment, or the fact that Oklahoma is shockingly behind our neighboring states, forces speaking against our children’s education will play on our fears of big government. In reality, SQ 744 would increase transparency and accountability in education funding by requiring a public, annual report detailing education spending, right down to classroom instruction and administrative costs. SQ 744 would finally allow us to see where our education dollars are being spent, and make sure that they are going to our children. When organizers passed around petitions to have SQ 744 placed on the ballot, nearly a quarter of a million Oklahomans signed in support. They were people tired of the lip service delivered by politicians, and tired of watching our children’s future be pushed to the side. For the sake of Oklahoma’s sons and daughters, I hope they stay engaged and prioritize education. Barlow is a partner at Barlow Education Management Services and a member of the Yes on 744 Advisory Committee.
Student investment in the region
1. Arkansas, $10,345
2. New Mexico, $10,099 3. Kansas, $9,979 4. Colorado, $9,633 5. Missouri, $9,036 6. Texas, $8,769 7. Oklahoma, $8,006 Source: NEA rankings and estimates, 2009-10 report