Governor Keating's continued use of misleading education statistics is jeopardizing public school reform in Oklahoma, according to a Senate leader who is pushing for education improvements this legislative session.
"If we're really serious about enacting a meaningful education reform package, we have to have an open, honest debate about where our schools are and where they need to be. You can't begin a dialogue like that when one of the principal players is out there skewing the numbers in the public, trying to paint a picture that distorts reality and ultimately hurts education," said Senator Cal Hobson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
The Lexington legislator is taking exception to Governor Keating's public statements regarding public school funding in Oklahoma. In many recent speaking engagements, the Governor has quoted an outdated statistic from Education Week magazine which ranked Oklahoma 35th in the nation in per pupil spending.
What Governor Keating hasn¹t told his audiences is that the ranking was based on early 1997 spending estimates, not actual per pupil expenditures. When the figures were adjusted for actual spending in December of 1998, Oklahoma fell to 40th in the Education Week ranking, a fact ignored by the Governor.
"I'd like to give the Governor the benefit of the doubt and assume he wasn't aware of the difference, but the updated statistics have been out for two and a half months," said Senator Hobson.
"If he really thinks Oklahoma is doing fine on education funding, he's kidding himself and misleading the public in the process. We¹re not doing fine and Governor Keating needs to recognize that."
Other rankings put Oklahoma consistently in the bottom ten or bottom five states in education spending.
National Education Association - 48th
Morgan Quitno State Rankings - 46th
"No matter how you slice it, Oklahoma is a bottom ten state when it comes to funding public education. We can talk all we want about reforming and improving schools, but unless we include our lowly funding status in those discussions, we're not going to make any substantial progress," noted Sen. Hobson.
"We can enact the best reforms in the world, but unless we have the money to hire enough teachers, buy school supplies and keep the buses running on time, we're not going to have first-rate classrooms. Ignoring our funding shortcomings cheats our kids and our parents, and in the long-run, jeopardizes our state¹s future."
The lawmaker noted that Senators have tried to reach out to Governor Keating by passing his "4x4" curriculum program out of committee and keeping it alive for discussion. It was amended by Sen. Hobson to delay its implementation until Oklahoma reached the regional average in education funding. Only Arkansas currently spends less.
The amendment, said Hobson, was added to make a point.
"The point is nothing is free. You can't build a road without buying concrete and you can't ask your schools to teach more classes without giving them the resources to do it right," noted Sen. Hobson.
"We want to work with the Governor to craft a good reform package, but it's critical that he recognize our state's school funding challenges. Over the last four years, he's demonstrated a willingness to change his public position on education so I'm confident he¹ll approach this with an open mind."