Tahlequah Daily Press

Columns

May 22, 2012

OK core services are far from ‘fine’

TAHLEQUAH —  

In a partisan political age, a fundamental, ideological disagreement often dictates the terms of our debates. That disagreement concerns the proper size and scope of government – what it should do and what it should not.
In Oklahoma in recent years, the debate has been dominated by those who feel the size and scope of government, at state and federal levels, is too large, bloated by corruption and bureaucracy. Oklahoma agencies face further reductions as income tax cuts loom large on the horizon. The Republican agenda, despite the inadequacies of state government, is to further cripple it. This agenda is wrong for Oklahomans.
Whether discussion revolves around education, roads and bridges, the health of our state, or how we take care of senior citizens, our government lingers on the brink of a coma induced by massive budget cuts. Many politicians love to play a disingenuous rhetorical game by proclaiming Oklahoma’s government is too large and incompetent one moment, then stating the government is functioning “just fine” on the other, and therefore can tolerate further cuts.
One needs look no further than Oklahoma’s public school system to see evidence of the government’s starvation into inadequacy. Oklahoma’s schools ranked “far below average” in the 2011 Science and Engineering Readiness Index, which assesses aptitude in preparing students for careers involving science and mathematics. According to the National Education Association, Oklahoma ranks 49th in the dollars it spends per student. Class sizes in Oklahoma schools are swelling while education support staff is downsized and less dollars go to elective courses, textbooks and technology, and basic operational needs.
Many of these failures, but not all, can be attributed to the policies of our egregiously unqualified superintendent of public instruction, Janet Barresi. Last year, the Republican majority in the Legislature, followed by the Republican governor, gave Barresi unprecedented powers over the State Board of Education. She used those powers to cut funding for reading sufficiency programs, professional development programs, and popular and effective programs such as Literacy First and the Street School in Tulsa that offered alternative classes and therapeutic counseling to students. She also cut the stipend for National Board Certified teachers. Thankfully, through the efforts of concerned legislators and outraged citizens, the stipend was provided through a supplemental appropriation. Now, I am fighting to ensure NBCT teachers keep their stipend in the years to come. However, we cannot expect the Republicans’ and Barresi’s battle against public education and teacher compensation to end there.

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