BY World's Editorials Writers
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
4/17/12 at 2:59 AM
Does anyone remember House Bill 1017 passed two decades ago to reform Oklahoma's education system? A cornerstone of that historic legislation was smaller class sizes. That commitment by lawmakers, who control funding to public education, started waning four years ago when tough economic times struck. Funding still is down, with Tulsa Public Schools due to lose 75 teachers next session.
In Jenks, where the population rose by 77 percent over 10 years, funding for its school system is $2 million less this year. Yet the district has 400 more students. State per-pupil spending at Jenks has trended lower for years, according to a story last week by Kim Archer. Per-pupil spending was at $6,293 in 2009-10, compared with projected per-pupil spending of $5,830 in 2011-12.
What this means is that state aid to the Jenks district is back to 2004 levels while it's gained 1,700 students.
The average class size at the fourth-grade level is 28.4; some classes have 30 or more students. The average for the district's kindergarten classes is 26.2 students. With that many students, teachers are hard-pressed to give students a little extra attention.
Jenks Superintendent Kirby Lehman would like to see fourth-grade classes down to 25 students. But he is not holding his breath. Neither is Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard nor the superintendents at Broken Arrow and Union, which have seen sizable growth as well as funding cuts.
The Department of Education and some state lawmakers are all about exit exams in high school to show students are leaving with core skills. That sounds good.
Well, guess what? House Bill 1017 sounded good too. If the goal of that legislation was still intact, students might have a far better chance of breezing through the exit exams.
The Legislature is hell-bent on cutting taxes, which one way or another is going to keep adding to the number of students in classrooms. Pretty soon public schools will need to hold some of their classes in the gym.
If Oklahomans really care about the size of these classes they'll let their lawmakers know that adequate public education funding comes first and that the dream of HB 1017 shouldn't die.