“The free public school system in Oklahoma is the glory of our State,” according to the Rev. Evan D. Cameron.
Cameron, a Baptist pastor and Oklahoma’s very first State Superintendent of Public Instruction, wrote this in his 1908 report.
Fast forward to April 2018, when a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon for the first time in a long time that Oklahoma might be plotting a course to restore the glory of an excellent free public school system in the Sooner state.
In spite of chronic underfunding, Oklahoma public schools have been trying to move forward in the 21st century. We should encourage and fund their new and promising initiatives. The one-size-fits-all institution where students enter and exit like a cookie cutter factory are a thing of the past.
Now is the time to double down our investment in innovation in public school choices like magnet schools, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, career internship programs, credit recovery, wraparound care, robust extracurricular options, and academy/specialty campus approaches with STEM, bilingual, fine arts, medical, or Montessori focus.
School district sponsored non-profit charters with open-enrollment that serve students from a defined geographic area with specialty focus show much promise as well.
We must ensure access to these kinds of public school choices for kids in urban, suburban, and rural schools across the state. This will take significant investment and political will.
But privatization advocates and their big money “think tanks” seek to derail this forward momentum. Several bills facing our legislators this session will be devastating to public education in Oklahoma.
Privatizers are quick to condemn public schools for seeking further investments that would benefit 90 percent of Oklahoma’s children. Yet at every turn, they have their hands out for government subsidies and corporate bailouts in the form of vouchers, tax credits, and for-profit charters.
Resources that could have funded innovative solutions for the overwhelming majority of Oklahoma kids, instead end up in the pockets of a few CEOs and elite private schools.
At the same time, the more taxpayer funding we take from public schools and send to private schools the less transparency and accountability we have for our most important investment: the next generation of Oklahomans.
Choosing to not invest in public education by sending taxpayer dollars to private corporations means locking out 700,000 Oklahoma kids from these innovative options while giving preference to just 5 percent.
And while everything from bullying to homelessness is being used to push private school vouchers, no one can deny that public schools serve these populations spread out across the entire state every single day.
To be sure it is admirable that a local OKC private school serves about 75 homeless children; however, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness reported Oklahoma public schools served over 26,268 homeless kids in 2017.
We are either all in for all Oklahoma kids or we are not. Anything less means picking winners and losers among our children and reeks of corporate welfare for those who need it the least.
I hope our newly elected Governor Kevin Stitt, House Speaker Charles McCall, and Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat will take seriously the investments needed in all Oklahoma kids and not just fall into line with the influential anti-public education ideologues and lobbyists.
Otherwise, the hope to restore our public schools as the glory of our State looks quite bleak.
Pastor Clark Frailey is Lead Pastor at Coffee Creek Church in Edmond and Executive Director of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids — a non-denominational coalition of pastors from across Oklahoma he helped co-found.