CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
OKLAHOMA CITY – With teachers poised to receive the largest salary increase in state history, parents and education reform groups are now asking legislators to focus on improving Oklahoma schools and boosting student outcomes. ChoiceMatters, which works to connect parents with educational resources and options, said the pay raises were needed but would not help students without additional reforms.
“We are grateful the Legislature has acted to give teachers a much-needed pay raise,” said ChoiceMatters Executive Director Robert Ruiz (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/education-and-parent-advocates-disappointed-as-legislators-fail-to-back-tax-credit-scholarships).
“However, the important work of improving our schools has not yet begun. Educational outcomes in Oklahoma are getting worse, and many of our children are falling further and further behind. This is particularly true in low-income and minority communities, where disparity in outcomes is growing.”
Latino children in Oklahoma are 3.5 time more likely than white children to attend a school rated “F” on the state’s education report card. African America children are 5 times more likely to attend an “F” school. There are over 27,000 Black and Latino public school students in F schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa alone.
“There are low-income and minority families that have been trapped in the same failing schools and failing system for multiple generations,” said Ruiz. “The results are all around us: cyclical poverty; poor health; high rates of crime and incarceration. This is getting worse, not better. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking we have solved this problem simply by paying our teachers more.”
Ruiz said school choice policies and reforms — like charter school expansion and funding, open transfer in public schools, Education Savings Accounts, and the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships for students with special needs – represent a bright spot in education.
“The story in Oklahoma education is not all doom and gloom,” said Ruiz. “We have seen some schools make massive improvements and find innovative and successful ways to support their students. Most of these opportunities and innovations are coming within the area of school choice.
“ChoiceMatters and the thousands of parents who are part of our coalition are asking for legislative action that would expand access to school choice, that would expand current tax scholarship programs, that would establish a mechanism for education dollars to follow children, and that would provide equity to successful charter schools to serve more students.”
Ruiz said that public education needs systemic reform, not just more money. “The current system has not been well suited for certain demographics for decades,” said Ruiz. “Injecting more money into that failing system will have a negligible effect on our students. In order to really change outcomes for children, the system needs to be changed. Many of the communities that would benefit most from school choice policies are ready to become engaged, but they need to be empowered through policy in order to create that engagement.”
The group Ruiz guides advocates for increased parental choice in education, and has sponsored “summits” bringing together public, private, home school and others who support greater opportunities and options in education.