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Point of View: Why I'm taking a teacher to the State of the Union

My life and countless others have been shaped by educators, by people who took the time to teach and mentor and grow potential in their students. As the granddaughter of a librarian, I was blessed to have a family that instilled a love of learning from a young age. As a public school student, my teachers nourished that seed and helped it grow.

Our public schools and our teachers open doors of opportunity for Oklahoma’s children and prepare our youngest generation with the skills and tools they’ll need in an increasingly global economy. But in my congressional district, I have heard from teachers who are underpaid, undervalued and in need of more support in their work.

Education is one of the best investments we can make in our future. When teachers give their all to our students, we must give our all to supporting teachers, plain and simple.

That is why I am inviting Oklahoma’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, Jena Nelson, to be my guest at the president’s State of the Union address next Tuesday. Jena is an eighth-grade composition and enhancement teacher at Deer Creek Middle School who puts everything she has into giving her students better opportunities. Jena often says, “public education saved my life.” As a teacher, she’s committed to providing the same care she found in public schools to Oklahoma’s next generation.

While Jena is exceptional, she also is no exception. Public school teachers across our state give teaching their all and deserve our support. There are teachers in Oklahoma who are forced to take a second job just to make ends meet. There are Oklahoma teachers who can’t afford to pay back student debt.

Last week I toured an Oklahoma Head Start, met with a second-grade Girl Scout troop, and talked about student loan debt with students and teachers at the University of Central Oklahoma. At every level of education, I have seen our teachers' hard work and the support they need to do their job.

In 2018, I stood in solidarity with 50,000 teachers, students and others to demand our state invest in education. Today, my commitment to them and to investing in the tools they need to provide a world-class education is stronger than ever.

In the House of Representatives, I am working to pass bipartisan legislation to support our public school teachers. To make lasting change, we need to work across the aisle, uniting Republicans and Democrats.

This year, I cosponsored the Teachers are Leaders Act, a bill that would create a professional development program for teachers who have leadership roles in their schools. I am also a cosponsor of the Reaching English Learners Act, legislation that would provide additional funding to train teachers to teach English as a second language. Both the Teachers as Leaders Act and the Reaching English Learners Act have bipartisan support.

In December, we saw the kind of progress we can make for our teachers and public schools when both parties work together. Congress passed a bipartisan government funding bill that made investment in education a top priority and included record funding for Head Start early education and IDEA Grants for children with disabilities. The bill also included a $450 million boost to Title I, a federal program that provides funding to schools serving a high concentration of low-income students.

I successfully fought to increase funding in the year-end bill for Impact Aid, a program that supports local schools that lose revenue due to tax-exempt federal property like military installations or as a result of federal action to establish tribal lands. Oklahoma school districts receive approximately $36 million in Impact Aid funding each year, more than any other state. The funding bill Congress enacted in December increased our total investment in IMPACT Aid by $38 million.

We all know that supporting our teachers and public schools is not just about the numbers. It is about recognizing the men and women who have dedicated their lives to preparing our next generation of students. Our teachers are everyday heroes. In Jena’s words, they are “saving lives,” and they should be honored not just with our words, but with our actions. Having Oklahoma’s school teacher of the year by my side at this year’s State of the Union is just one way to thank a public school teacher who deserves our appreciation every day of the week.

Horn, D-Oklahoma City, represents Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District.

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