Oklahoma knows how to build champions, let’s do it in our schools (Tulsa World)

By Adam Kupetsky

I’m originally from New York and have always been a fan of the New York Mets. In 1986, I was ice skating at college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when Mookie Wilson’s ground ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs, which soon would result in the Mets’ first championship since 1969. It was the culmination of six years of rebuilding a notoriously under-performing team, but the steady investment paid off. This story has played out many times in professional and collegiate sports.

Every team wants to be a champion, but — unless they are blessed by a deep-pocketed billionaire willing to spend with abandon — they do not develop into one overnight. That is especially true for teams in small markets. The tried and true method is to build for the future, taking the long view, sometimes spending money to develop minor league players and sometimes trading for or buying a more experienced player. But no team worth anything refuses to invest in their players what they think is required to become a champion.

In Oklahoma, we aren’t building our team to be a champion. We have what it takes; we just refuse to deploy it to improve our team.

When it comes to education, taking the long view means building Oklahoma’s education system that will ensure our kids succeed in life and in their careers, and in turn create a stronger Oklahoma. And while our team needs this investment to build a winner over time, our children don’t have time for us to delay the investment. Investing in our team improves each team member and the team as a whole.

Education is the key to personal improvement regardless of background, race, ethnicity or religion. People with better education are healthier, less likely to commit crime and more likely to have a good-paying job. Education also drives our free, capitalist economy. Educated people can make smart choices about what to buy, how much to save, where to work, whether to trust service providers, identify good political candidates and many other things. Crucially, educated people can pick themselves up and start again if they fail. Without education, our children could be stuck with a dead-end job if a business closes because they won’t have the tools to adjust. To make it in this country, our children (the members of our team) need, at a minimum, a solid educational foundation.

But education doesn’t just give your children the tools to succeed — it also creates the environment in which to do so. While Oklahoma has one of the highest poverty rates, a more educated populace would spur more high-paying jobs where our children can work. This, in turn, feeds their opportunity to succeed. Moreover, while Oklahoma constantly ranks among the lowest in health outcomes, studies show that better education leads to healthier people and lower health care costs. It also leads to reduced crime. These cost reductions free up personal and/or government funds for more productive uses. Better education is a key ingredient of a robust economy that creates jobs.

A good public education system provides this foundation. That means enough good teachers to reach each student, as well as the resources to evaluate student progress and teacher and principal effectiveness, guide students in their academic careers and transition to college or a job, encourage attendance and effort and provide transportation and meals. This need is daunting, yet required to make Oklahoma a champion. It must be done efficiently to spend our money wisely, requiring a delicate balancing act to:

• Create economies of scale to avoid duplicating efforts at each school that could be performed at the district level, while maintaining sufficient local control; and

• Ensure sufficient personnel to achieve goals, without creating bureaucratic bottlenecks or excessive costs.

Like the position players, hitting and running talent and pitching necessary to build a winning baseball team, these are some of the elements required to produce an effective education system worthy of our children.

So if we understand the payoff and know what it takes to make it, what should we do?

Unlike the Mets, we have no one person who has the authority and resources to make it happen. While corporations and charitable institutions have been more than generous in shoring up the foundations of some school systems, this support is neither sufficient nor sustainable. Rather, it is you, the people of Oklahoma, who are responsible for building this team. In theory it should be simple. To fund this quest for an education system that will create opportunities for our children, we should pool our resources to make it happen. We have to figure out how much more per-pupil funding will be required and then raise the money from ourselves and the state’s corporations.

In practice, however, it’s our legislators who vote, and most of them don’t appear to share our motivation to succeed. Instead, they pretend we don’t have the money, reach for “easy” solutions like ineffective private school vouchers, or rationalize their near-sightedness by claiming schools aren’t religious or efficient enough. These are cop-outs. Rather than reflecting their constituents’ desire to pool resources so our kids have the ammunition afforded by a solid education, our legislators are withholding this funding with the knowledge that we are going to fail. How can we possibly reach the championship when our officers refuse to make the strategic investments required to be victorious?

The Oklahoma Policy Institute has presented a number of ways to raise the funds. For example, there would have been $1.022 billion more available for fiscal year 2016 if personal income tax rates had remained at 2015 levels. Yet, these cuts had very little benefit for most Oklahomans and virtually no benefit for the bottom 20 percent of households.

Our legislators are poorly managing Team Oklahoma, especially with regard to education. Trading long-term development for short-term benefits makes little sense when your objective is to give our students the tools they need to survive in this economy. Almost every championship team (including my New York Mets) have shown that the way to win is to make early investments that, over time and with adjustments, produce champions.



Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

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