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Creating the education system students deserve

Ryan Walters
Ryan Walters

This past year Oklahoma’s teachers and parents faced what some might have believed was an insurmountable challenge. I am in awe of the resiliency of Oklahoma’s teachers, students and families.

Creating a future where Oklahoma is a national leader in education is my goal as a parent, teacher, nonprofit leader and as the State Secretary of Education. I believe this future begins by ensuring every student has equal opportunity to attend the public school that is best for them.

School had to look different this year, which left many parents looking for education options that worked best for their children. Be it in-person options, digital offerings, or blended models, parents were often left to navigate a complicated and inconsistent process for seeking public school transfers. Many who could afford to leave the public school system did so. For the first time in 19 years we saw enrollment in Oklahoma public schools drop.

COVID has shown us clearly the antiquated practice that forces students to receive a certain form or quality of public education simply because of a zip code can no longer continue.

This experience is not new. We see this take place when a child with severe dyslexia would be better served at another public school with a teacher specializing in this learning technique. Or when a student is pursuing certain AP classes or foreign language courses to prepare early for a career path. It’s why our neighbor, Colorado, adopted a similar open transfer model.

We have incredible public schools and talented teachers in Oklahoma; we should let students take advantage of options available within the public education system. We can make this possible by expanding our state’s open transfer law.

All Oklahoma students should have access to great schools. In order for that to happen, we must ensure each student has the funding and resources to be successful. Our schools are currently funded not based on the students currently sitting in their classrooms, but on the highest average daily attendance the school has had over the last three years. This practice is outdated, unfair and illogical. Schools with declining student populations are given funds for students no longer in their school, while growing schools do not have adequate funds for their current student population.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and I know Oklahoma can be a Top 10 state in education, but this cannot happen without changes to our current education system. We must maximize our investment in each individual student and give every child the opportunity to attend the right public school for them. Legislation being considered this session will ensure every student has the right school and right opportunity and will provide accurate funding for our students. It is time we give Oklahoma students the education they deserve.

Ryan Walters is the Oklahoma Secretary of Education and CEO of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma while simultaneously teaching AP U.S. History at Millwood High School and McAlester High School. He was a finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year in 2016.