The founders of our nation believed that we must have a successful public education system for our nation to flourish, and I agree. When Oklahoma companies reach out to recruit top talent from across our nation and relocate them to Oklahoma, these people want to know that we have excellent schools for their children. While some districts have the funding and resources for giving a good education, other districts clearly do not have the same resources. Where is the breakdown and is giving more money to the problem the answer?!? These are the struggles I would like to look at and help solve.
Many people in my family have been lifelong educators. I have a degree in Elementary Education and began teaching in 1993. I have seen over 20 years’ worth of roadblocks that can distract teachers from being able to just focus on their greatest joy – teaching our children. The number one roadblock in many school districts, aside from financials, is the disconnect of the parents from their kids and I feel that parental involvement needs to be reengaged. Parents need to feel welcome back into the classroom, and I believe that discipline problems can be better managed with parental involvement. This may be old school, but I remember when all I had to do was call a parent and they would be in the class with their child for as long as it took to ensure a good discipline outcome. The teacher was happy, the parent was happy, and yes, the student was eventually happy, especially when good grades were the result.
The other roadblock is to let the teachers use their talents again and teach. It’s time to stop teaching to the “test” or to the “standards” and let talent take over. I have seen the best and brightest teachers become discouraged over the inability to use their God given talent and teach a curriculum that neither engages students in the learning nor does it increase academics. This happened during my time as an educator and I truly believe that this discouraged many teachers resulting in many leaving the teaching field altogether. If a teacher is in a school that encourages talent and out-of-the-box thinking to engage learning, then that teacher is truly blessed.
Let’s move on to the financial part of education, I understand the desire to improve teacher pay and channel more money to the classroom, but I believe that the time has come to ask the tough questions about how and where our hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. As a teacher, I was supplying my students with paper, pencils, and basic supplies. I know all about that. As a result, I began looking around my own campus and started seeing things from a different perspective: why was my principal remodeling our playground that was in good, working order, painting a new mural in the gym from an outside source, or even investing in a special yogurt for our students, when we could not meet basic needs in the classroom? The complaints of teachers over small issues such as these are valid, and they discourage and demoralize those in the classroom.
“Where did that money come from, who made the decision to change what was not necessary at the time, and why am I being overlooked, many would ask?”
Before raising taxes on Oklahomans, shouldn’t we ask if there are waste issues in our school that need to be addressed before we challenge the Oklahoma citizens with tax increases?
Why is this financial information important? Education currently receives over $4 billion which is more than 51% of the states appropriated budget and represents increases of $480 million (14%) for 2019 and $203 million (5%) for 2020. The Governor and legislature stepped up and made significant investments into education over the past 2 years.
I understand it takes time for reform, but simply increasing education spending is not the answer. There are several issues that need to be addressed including waste issues at the district level, parental involvement and teachers that are overregulated in their own classrooms. All this points to Oklahoma scores that are below national averages when compared to the rest of the nation.
I believe that two opportunities for public education include:
2. Comprehensive Performance Audits
Let’s talk about Transparency for a moment. The most productive school districts understand this concept and are not afraid to share how parents’ hard-earned tax dollars are being spent, but for most school districts, this is not the case. Public education has numerous revenue streams flowing into it from state appropriations, state non-appropriations, county and federal dollars, making it difficult for teachers, lawmakers and taxpayers to know exactly how much money their school receives. What this boils down to is the appropriated state budget for school districts only represents a portion of actual school funding. It’s time for all school funds to flow through a single pipeline so that teachers and taxpayers alike know exactly how much money their district receives and spends. Back to my early days of teaching: Was the updated playground needed and if so, did the work go to the lowest bidder with quality work? Did the gym need to be painted by an outside source? Can the arts department do the same job? Is a special yogurt needed? Did we hit the rock bottom price for that yogurt? So on and so forth.
Performance audits – Isn’t it time to take a good, long “look” at how public education is structured and funded in Oklahoma? The answer is an obvious, yes, and the way to achieve this “look” is a call for comprehensive statewide performance audits. Allow me to explain the difference between performance audits and fiscal audits:
- A Fiscal Audit is when an independent firm makes sure that accounts are accurate and correct. A fiscal audit has very little to do with answering this question…” Is the money being spent the right way?” For that, we need to do a performance audit.
- A Performance Audit focuses on how efficiently something is run. Questions like “Should we be doing it that way?” and “Is there a better way to do it?” are addressed. It looks at education from a big-picture viewpoint rather than just trying to find efficiency improvements at the district level.It cannot be emphasized enough that the type of comprehensive performance audits I’m talking about would change the landscape of public education in Oklahoma.
- Finally, if you have any interest in looking at how education is funded in our state, you can also see our state’s funding formula at https://sde.ok.gov/notice-allocation
- If we are going to move Oklahoma’s Public Education system to the top of the nation, it’s time to take Transparency, Accountability and Performance Audits to a new level as we seek to transform our brick and mortar public schools and give our teachers the support, freedom and tools they require.