Oklahoma public schools resumed classes recently.
The beginning of the school year is naturally an exciting, optimistic time: New students come to new classrooms eager to learn.
Returning school teachers will see the effect of the second year of better state funding of public schools. Earlier this year, the Legislature approved Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan for $1,220 a year raises for 97% of public school teachers. Last year, on the eve of a statewide teacher strike, the Legislature approved taxes and appropriations to fund $6,100 teacher pay raises.
The jury is still out on whether the raises will, as Stitt has repeatedly promised, move the state to first place in the region in average teacher pay. An arcane teacher pay raise bill in Texas makes sorting out the states’ relative position hard to determine ahead of annual state-by-state reports from the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Education Association.
Whether we edge ahead of Texas or not, it’s undeniable that Oklahoma is doing a lot better than it was on the important gauge of teacher pay, which is, a great start.
But the job is not finished. Other important metrics show that Oklahoma’s public schools remain underfunded in critical ways.
This year, the Legislature also increased appropriations to the school funding formula, which districts can use for other needs, including smaller class sizes, better pay for support personnel, restoring closed programs, increasing the number of school counselors and meeting the routine costs of running a school district.
No one knows the remaining needs better than Oklahoma school teachers, who can look out over a sea of children in their classrooms and recognize that they still need help.
The state has come a long way in the past two years. From here we have a choice: Continue pressing ahead or surrender (again) to the erosive effects of funding neglect.
We say: Forge ahead.
~ The Tulsa World