This semester, I developed and taught a new graduate class called Equity, Justice, and Inclusion in Education Policy. We ended up focusing mostly on equity and how different state and federal education policies hamper and improve equity in schools. In the current political climate in our state, we had plenty of state and local policies to discuss in addition to federal policies. One evening while discussing school funding formulas and Oklahoma lagging behind the regional average (by about $2,00 per student), a student asked, “What would Oklahoma schools do with $2,000 more per student?” This was a simple but brilliant question and I was so glad it was asked!
Thanks to OSSBA for creating this handy graphic showing what our neighbors spend per student.
In class, we discussed what we thought schools would do with adequate funding and my top four ideas are below (perhaps it’s my Christmas wish list for #oklaed). A caveat, though: I write this from a university campus where I work with schools and pre-service teachers, NOT from a principal’s office or K-12 classroom. I look forward to hearing from my K-12 colleagues about what their priorities would be.
- Increase teacher pay. At this point, anyone in Oklahoma who argues that we don’t need an across-the-board teacher pay increase isn’t paying attention to the droves of teachers leaving our state each year. While teacher pay is only one factor in Oklahoma’s teacher shortage, increasing teacher pay to be regionally competitive would go a long way toward reducing teacher turnover. The State Board of Education says that we need an across-the-board raise of $5,000 to be regionally competitive (News OK).
- More classroom teachers and smaller class sizes. When we moved to Oklahoma in 2015, I was shocked to learn that my daughter’s second grade class had 28 students in it. In the last two years, Oklahoma schools have eliminated at least 2,000 teaching positions leading to untenable class sizes (OSSBA, The Tulsa World). In addition to smaller class sizes being better for students and teachers, it also leads to job creation. It’s a win all around!
- Wrap-around services for students and families. In Oklahoma, 62% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, indicating that their families live in poverty (OK State Department of Education). Students from impoverished backgrounds are more likely to lack access to healthcare, adequate food, and before- and after-school care. If Oklahoma schools were funded at a regionally competitive rate, they could invest in wrap-around services to support students from low-income backgrounds. In-school health clinics that are free to students and families, meal programs that provide backpacks of food to students so they can eat on the weekends, and inexpensive school-based childcare all improve readiness to learn for students from low-income families.
- Additional instructional support staff. At my children’s school district in Arkansas, every school had its own literacy coach just for kindergarteners. Let me repeat: there was a literacy coach (a former teacher with a Master’s degree in Reading and the license of Reading Specialist) who ONLY worked with kindergarteners. That level of staffing meant that every kindergarten student received individual instruction in reading. There were additional literacy coaches for the other grades. Positions like literacy and math coaches or specialists or facilitators are essential to providing extra support to students who are below grade level. Additional counselors, teachers for specials (art, music, computer, STEM lab, etc.), and librarians provide more support for classroom teachers and students and extend learning.
If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent, how would you spend an extra $2,000 per student? How would our schools be transformed if the Oklahoma Legislature provided funding comparable to the regional average?