Morning Bell: Falling short in education
In a new series called "State of Oklahoma," The Oklahoman is taking a closer look at some of the metrics in education, poverty, health and incarceration where the state ranks among the lowest in the nation.
For example, Oklahoma leads the nation for the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, making schools are the primary source of food for too many children.
That hunger, educators say, in part, helps account for why a majority of students score below proficient in nearly every state-required test.
Since 2008, no other state has cut more money to its public schools.
To some, such problems like poverty, hunger and poor health, take place in other parts of town, in places they don't see, or to people they don't know or care about.
“I think for many if it's not me it's not my problem," said Felix Linden, a teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in south Oklahoma City. "Everybody is just in it for themselves now. Not my kid not my problem. Not my street not my problem. There is not a collective sense of ownership in the state or even the nation."
I wrote the first story in the series last Sunday, which you can read here.
Teachers lobby at the Capitol
Teachers from across Oklahoma lobbied lawmakers at the Capitol on Tuesday, seeking increased funding for schools and a $10,000 teacher pay raise phased in over three years, reports the Tulsa World.
“We are lobbying our legislators to pass a revenue plan so we don’t have to walk out,” said Shawna Mott-Wright, Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association vice president. “We don’t want to walk out. That is not the goal. It is a tactic to get the goal.”
She said lawmakers need to “muster up some courage and represent their constituents.”
So far, lawmakers have floated three plans to give raises ranging from about $2,000 to $5,000.
However, one plan not receiving a positive response from lawmakers is a proposal from Bartlesville Public Schools for how to pay for teacher pay raises.
Dubbed “The Time is NOW,” the Bartlesville plan would have the state raise some of the same taxes previously considered by the Legislature in an effort to capture $700 million in new state revenues for Fiscal Year 2019. It was reportedly devised with help from Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, and a group of Bartlesville school district administrators and board members who meet regularly, reports the Tulsa World.
School leaders asked for detailed responses to the plan from that city’s legislative delegation, and even Sears’ response wasn’t encouraging.
“I appreciate the Bartlesville Board of Education developing a plan for the legislature to consider. We, as elected officials, must address this critical budget issue for teachers and state programs our citizens utilize,” Sears wrote. “The Bartlesville, ‘The Time Is Now Plan,’ has many components that have been before the members this Session. Unfortunately, all of the plans have failed.”
A survey of former Oklahoma teachers this year found that low pay was the biggest reason teachers left the profession, but challenges with classroom management and increasing curriculum standards were also cited.
"Pay alone won't solve the teacher shortage,” said state superintendent Joy Hofmeister. “But we are not in the ballgame in any way if we are not offering our teachers competitive pay.”
Oklahoma school leaders have said hiring and retaining teachers has become harder over the last several years with some openings being filled with an emergency certified teacher.
SDE calls for investigation into Chickasha schools
The Oklahoma State Department of Education has asked that the state's top investigative agency look into allegations of grade and attendance tampering at Chickasha Public Schools.
"There have been complaints and reports of wrongdoing which continue to warrant further investigation," State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in a Tuesday statement. "These allegations are extremely troubling and require the investigative authority of OSBI."