You may have read in the Journal Record that Oklahoma must continue to expand its industries beyond the traditional energy sector. Diversify or shrivel on the vine. These comments were attributed to Commerce Secretary Deby Snodgrass. The operative word is continue. Ms. Snodgrass is not known for any recognized economic development skills. Oklahoma has no offices in other states to solicit business from those companies looking for a state with less regulation and taxes. Oklahoma also has location, a port, water and energy. But, you have to sell it. Ms. Snodgrass must think that industry recruiters wake up each morning thinking they need to “Explore Oklahoma,” which is on the new license tags. It just doesn’t work that way. We must work our way out of the $865 million budget shortball that we find ourselves in. We must expand the tax base.
For those who might want to consider the state, the Senate Education Committee took a giant step backwards by defeating Senate Bill 37 authored by Senator Kyle Loveless of Oklahoma City. The bill would have required schools to have five-day teaching week with exceptions.
Loveless said, “He believes the best policy for the state schools are to be in session five days a week.” Governor Mary Fallin agrees with the Senate Bill. “I believe strongly that our schools must offer five-day school weeks. Five-day school weeks produce better educational outcomes as well as provide less stress on our families, especially those who must find additional day care,” the governor said.
With 44,000 Oklahoma college students currently taking remediation classes because of their poor learning skills developed in high school, how in the world does eliminating a full day each week make sense? Those 44,000 students should have been left in high school to make improvements before being made to pay for remediation classes.
The other side of the argument is that schools went to a four-day week to save money because of state budget cuts. Shawn Hime of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association said, “They are looking for any way possible to be efficient.” If that were the case you would find the Legislature working with Mr. Hime’s Association getting rid of dependent school districts, consolidating small school districts and giving parents more school choice . Pity the parent who wants more education for their child only to face a four-day week and no charter or alternative school available.
As the Tulsa Beacon reported on December 3, 2015, that according to a new Sooner Poll, Oklahomans strongly prefer school choice and giving parents the right to use tax dollars to send their children to their choice of public or private schools. Those in favor of school choice were 79 percent Republicans, 70 percent all voters and 60 percent Democrats. Rural residents were just as supportive as are their counter-parts from the two large metro centers at 70 percent in favor.
More than three times as many Oklahomans say competition helps schools (67 percent) as say it does not (21 percent). Seventy-two percent of Republicans hold this belief, as do 63 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of rural residents. The poll was conducted and released by Pat McFerron of Cole Hargrave and Associates.
According to state databases in a Wall Street Journal story by Daniel Henninger, charter schools are eroding the Democratic urban base of teachers and black parents. Looking at the percentages of students now enrolled in public charter schools, we find 53 percent in Flint, Michigan; Kansas City 40 percent; Philadelphia 32 percent; the District of Columbia 45 percent; and Detroit 53 percent. In New Orleans, the figure is now 92 percent. America’s inner cities are the foundation of the Democrat Party. Now, writes Mr. Henninger, its urban political arm, the teachers’ union is shrinking. And its moral foundation of black parents is drifting away.
All of this has lessons for Oklahoma. We can continue to shrivel awaiting the next oil boom or get to work on improving education to make way for economic expansion. Without great schools there will be no economic development.