This is the fourth of a seven part series by Oklahoma Policy Institute to propose public policy action items for the state of Oklahoma. These recommendations are aimed at improving the shared prosperity of all Oklahomans while maintaining a fiscally responsible state budget. Previous installments made recommendations for tax reform, criminal justice, and health care policies. Future installments will focus on energy, financial security, and jobs. You can read the full series here.
Educating our children is Oklahoma’s biggest job. It’s the biggest in terms of dollars and cents, since common and higher education each year receive about half of all state appropriations. It’s also the biggest responsibility that we entrust to our state and local governments. Who we will be as a state and as a people in future decades is being decided right now in our schools.
Even so, Oklahoma provides fewer resources to common education compared to other states. Independent measures rank the state from 46th to 49th in per-pupil expenditures by public schools. Since the beginning of the recession, Oklahoma actually made the largest cuts in the nation to state aid funding per pupil, with state support dropping 22.8 percent, or $810 per student after inflation.
The task of our schools is made even more difficult by the large number of Oklahoma children struggling with poverty, which correlates with many struggles in the home that create an achievement gap for low-income students. No measure of school quality can be accurate if it does not take into account the very different situations faced by different students. In evaluations of student outcomes, Oklahoma’s performance tops our state’s funding ranking, but it still lags behind the national average. Oklahoma ranks 27th in dropout rate, 35th for ACT scores, and 38th for NAEP scores out of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
In recent years, education reformers have focused on creating tougher mandates for student performance. Third grade reading requirements, high school graduation tests, value- added teacher evaluations, A-F grading for schools, and Common Core Standards together are ramping up the pressure on schools and children. These standards may demand that student test scores improve, but they do not by themselves offer a strategy for making that happen.
There is not a simple solution. Oklahoma’s students show up at school bringing diverse skills and backgrounds. Some have supportive parents who read to them every night; others are still learning English. Some are provided with the best tutors; others don’t have enough to eat at home. Oklahoma has a duty to teach all of these children.
OK Policy recommends the following action items for Oklahoma to better fulfill that duty:
- Restore funding needed to meet Oklahoma’s goals for children;
- Extend policies that have beeen shown to close the achievement gap, such as community schools, a year-round school calendar, bilingual education for English Language Learners, and early childhood education; and
- Encourage saving for college with matching contributions for 529 college savings plans.
The learn more about any of these action items, check out the full issue brief.