Barresi: Lottery funds for schools should be for technology, not state aid
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Friday, February 01, 2013
2/01/13 at 7:44 AM
HOWE - State Superintendent Janet Barresi on Thursday called on the Legislature to halt the use of lottery proceeds as a source of state aid to public schools and to dedicate it instead to school technology needs.
"I want to work with the Legislature on this, with the provision that the hole (in state aid) be filled and to use lottery money in the way it was intended, which was for the 'extra' or 'special' things needed to enhance education," Barresi told the Tulsa World before a state Board of Education meeting at one of Oklahoma's most technologically advanced schools.
"If we're going to prepare kids for the 21st century, we need to provide them with the technology tools they need. I want to take the Howe lesson and expand it to the state," she said.
Each year, $30 million to $34 million from the state lottery is used as a source of state aid payments to public schools across the state.
Barresi said she will be seeking a permanent, dedicated revenue stream for technology needs fed by that lottery money.
"We need to work on connectivity, bandwidth, devices and professional development," Barresi told the state board later. "This won't be the amount of money every district needs, but it will be a basis for them to build from.
"I give our state a C- in connectivity. We need to improve our bandwidth and build up our infrastructure," she said.
High-tech Howe: Every one of the 500-plus students in the public school in this tiny LeFlore County town about 135 miles southeast of Tulsa have access to world-class technology and use it in almost every aspect of their education and even some of their extracurricular activities and athletics.
Primarily through grant funding, Howe Public Schools began purchasing laptops for every child nearly 10 years ago and training its teachers how to make their use in the curriculum "authentic and seamless," said technology coordinator Tammy Parks.
Touring classrooms before Thursday afternoon's meeting, Barresi and board members saw students taking advanced coursework unavailable on site through an online program and examples of student writing and artwork done with digital tools.
Senior English teacher Kim Rauser showed off her students' latest creative writing project, a personal "bucket list" of things they want to do before they die. The projects were laced with examples of at least a dozen different software programs and "apps" to which Howe students have access.
"This really integrates their ability to learn how to think about things with technology and it includes creativity," said Lee Baxter, a state board member from Lawton.
"It's an outlet that personalizes education for our students," replied Parks, the technology coordinator.
Districts react: Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard said he has always maintained that the lottery funds were never intended to be used to supplement state aid for schools, so he supports the idea - but not unequivocally.
"I agree the lottery funds ought to be held separately and sent out to the schools in a separate manner. What I disagree with is that we would be told what to do with that money," Ballard said. "Let the local school board decide where to spend that money. We don't need the state Department of Education to tell us we have to spend it on technology."
Other area district superintendents echoed Ballard's caveat.
"Each school district in the state has different instruction-related needs. Therefore, each time a general source of revenue is directed by the state superintendent into a single, specific area, local control is diminished and those instruction-related needs may not be met," said Jenks Superintendent Kirby Leh- man.
"Such instructional and funding issues should be addressed at the local level by the school board in each community in Oklahoma, rather than by the state superintendent initiating a 'one-size-fits-all' directive."
Union Deputy Superintendent Kirt Hartzler said he is concerned that the lottery funds removed from state aid would, in fact, be replaced.
"The devil is in the details. We don't want our state aid reduced, obviously. That state aid is used for hiring personnel for our district, which primarily are classroom teachers," he said.
If the lottery money is an additional source of funding for technology and the hole in state aid is replaced, then district administrators would welcome that, Union's Chief Financial Officer Debra Jacoby said.
"However, we would always prefer having the flexibility that we have now to determine - do we need more teachers? Do we need extra aides? Do we need to hire extra security with our state aid money? Do we have transportation needs?" she said.
Bixby Superintendent Kyle Wood said he thinks the state Legislature should mandate that lottery proceeds go directly to schools "as was originally intended," rather than supplanting budget appropriations to schools.
World Staff Writer Kim Archer contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Lottery proceeds use decried
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Superintendent Janet Barresi: She said schools need better technology so Oklahoma students can better compete in the 21st century