Educators to take funding case to Capitol
By Traci Chapman
A rally Monday is expected to bring thousands of educators, parents and students to the state Capitol with one goal – get legislators to take seriously the need for increased public education funding.
Mustang Public Schools will be at that rally in a big way, Superintendent Sean McDaniel said Tuesday. The issue is critical for both district and student success, as Oklahoma continues the battle to prepare upcoming generations for their adult lives, he said.
“Our hopes are to accomplish two things; one, we want legislators to understand our local plight as a result of inadequate funding, and two, we want a substantial increase to common education funding this session as well as a viable long-term plan for funding common education moving forward,” McDaniel said.
Funding cuts have been an ongoing problem for several years, but the problem has recently intensified, McDaniel said. If education budgets are slashed further, those cuts could impact students in the classroom.
“Significant challenges that Mustang faces due to continued cuts to funding are inadequate staffing that will very quickly result in larger class sizes and cuts to programs and resources,” the superintendent said. “Additionally, our students in Mustang will begin to miss out on small group and one-on-one instruction as our class sizes get larger.
“Research is very clear that smaller class sizes do make a difference for students,” McDaniel said. “When you combine a large class size with a teacher who is less than a superstar, it will affect kids.”
Another side of that coin was the ability to attract – and keep – quality teachers. Offering competitive pay would mean educators would pick Mustang as their home, which would be the greatest benefit to students, McDaniel said.
“Reasonable pay – which I would define as the regional average as a start – would keep our teachers here and it would be a significant step in the right direction for our state,” he said. “The teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s success.
“By increasing teachers’ salaries to at least the regional average, we stand a better chance of recruiting and retaining our very best,” he said.
Those averages already impact Mustang, when teachers are lured to more lucrative areas or leave education completely, McDaniel said.
“We lose teachers from our state annually who leave the profession or move to other states because Oklahoma teacher pay is one of the lowest in the country,” he said.
Hope is on the horizon, McDaniel said. Rep. Lee Denny authored House Bill 2642, and if passed, the bill would mean $500 million dedicated to common education over the next 10 years, he said.
“Although this piece of legislation will not immediately restore funding to Oklahoma’s public schools, it will get us on a path that will help significantly,” McDaniel said.
Problems are not just at the state level, however, the superintendent said. There would always be ways districts could be more efficient and cut costs.
“We don’t believe this can just be a simple hand-out from our Legislature,” McDaniel said. “We believe we need to continue to be wise with our spending and do the very best we can to maximize the funds we do have.”
McDaniel said he believed the rally is critical to common education across the state, and that’s why he asked Mustang Board of Education members to cancel school that day. Although teachers and staff are not required to attend the rally, he said he believed a “strong show of support” would be seen – because everyone at the district knows exactly what is on the line when it comes to state funding.
“Our district will reach a point in the next three or four years, if we do not see an increase in funding, when resources and supplies and materials become scarce,” McDaniel said. “Thankfully, we have had responsible and intelligent people through the years in Mustang who have made very wise financial decisions for this district, and while that will certainly continue, we can only stand cuts for so long before it affects the classroom and the kids.”
The entire community is invited to be part of the rally, the superintendent said. An anonymous supporter offered to pay for drivers and rent buses to transport people to and from the Capitol. Parents, students and anyone interested in being part of the rally is invited, he said. Buses will leave from the north end of the Mustang High School parking lot at 8:45 a.m. and will probably return about 12:30 p.m., he said. Parking is available in the student lot, and individuals can also drive their own vehicle. Anyone wishing to attend can contact McDaniel’s assistant, Brenda Dunn, at 376-7399 by Friday morning, he said.
“This is a critical time in public education,” McDaniel said. “What happens on Monday, March 31 at the Capitol will make a difference one way or the other.
“If we get 20,000-plus parents, students, community members and educators to show up, it will send a very positive message to our legislators,” McDaniel said.