The author of this post, a Tulsa-born social worker and parent of three children in the public school system, asked to remain anonymous
We hear a lot about the cuts to public programs that have been made in recent years as a result of the state’s endless budget crisis. Often a lot of numbers get tossed around, but we can lose sight of what the programs that are being cut mean for individual lives. Lives such as mine.
I attended Broken Arrow Academy from 2001 until I graduated in 2004. The BA Academy is one of over 250 alternative education programs that operate in the state to serve at-risk students. Prior to being accepted there, I was on the fast track to dropping out of high school entirely. I attended four different schools my freshman year. When I was in school, I ate lunch alone in the bathroom because I found the school of over 1,000 students overwhelming, and after so many transfers it became difficult to make friends.
My first day at Broken Arrow Academy was my first good day of school in years. As time progressed, I developed relationships with my teachers and school counselor. Those relationships helped me see school as a safe place and helped me continue to attend when things got rough.
Today, I have a bachelors’ degree in Psychology, and I work for a program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing. If it were not for the time I spent at Broken Arrow Academy, I would surely have dropped out. I was struggling socially, had little stability at home, and I was living in an environment that didn’t emphasize the necessity of obtaining an education. I was raised in a home that relied on food stamps and subsidized housing to get by. My mother was pregnant with me at 17, and in all likelihood I would have continued the cycle of poverty.
I can vouch first-hand for the difference that alternative education made in my life. Most of the people I still have contact with from high school are also doing well. The studies that have been done on alternative education by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center find that students who are enrolled in Oklahoma’s alternative education programs are suspended less often, miss fewer days of school, have higher GPAs, and graduate at higher rates.
So why then has funding for alternative education been cut by more than half over the past eight years, including a 30 percent cut just this year?
“If it were not for the time I spent at Broken Arrow Academy, I would surely have dropped out. I was struggling socially, had little stability at home, and I was living in an environment that didn’t emphasize the necessity of obtaining an education.”
From my understanding of most of our state’s lawmakers, the general goal is to cut taxes and decrease spending. I can imagine that some are of the mind that cutting the funds from “problem kids” will result in less cuts for the rest of the children. So please, listen to me when I say, a cut in alternative education will provide minimal savings in the present and cost the state every dollar it saved and many, many more in the long run.
If you consider my story alone: I would have ended up relying on public food assistance and government housing to survive. If I got sick, I would have visited an emergency room and left others to cover the cost of the bill. I would have had children that relied on Soonercare and free lunches. I, very likely, would have continued the cycle for more generations to come.
Now, multiply that by thousands of students every year. Then add in the likelihood that many would be in and out of the criminal justice systems for much of their adult lives.
Instead, thanks to alternative education we are productive members of society. We pay taxes, have health insurance, provide for our families, and make sure they know the value of education and hard work.
Saving a dollar to sacrifice millions is NOT the answer, Oklahoma. It’s time that we start thinking ahead. Preventative programs like alternative school should be a priority for lawmakers who claim they want to cut spending. It’s not always as simple as saving a buck.
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