Saying he disagrees with Governor Keating's gloomy assessment of Oklahoma's public school system, a Senate education leader urged the state chief executive to take a closer look at the evidence before he condemns a decade of work by teachers, students and parents statewide.
"Apparently, all Governor Keating sees in our public schools is doom, gloom and failure, but I think the more accurate picture is one of teachers, students and parents working together to make some notable improvements in spite of the very limited resources they have at their disposal," said Senator Cal Hobson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
Wednesday, Governor Keating issued a press release decrying what he felt was a lack of progress in the public schools given recent funding increases approved by the Legislature. The governor was apparently reacting to a new report which indicated that Oklahoma had fallen to 50th in per pupil expenditures.
"I said the 50th ranking should serve as a wake-up call and it apparently did for our governor. I would just encourage him to take a closer look at some of the evidence before he issues a sweeping condemnation of our public schools and the people who run them," said Hobson.
In his release, Governor Keating cited only a handful of test scores which had not increased in the past few years. What he ignored, however, were a number of other scores which showed a marked improvement during the same period. For example, scores of 3rd and 7th graders improved on the Iowa Skills Tests; scores of 5th, 8th and 11th graders improved on the state's math and science core curriculum exams; Oklahoma 4th and 8th graders posted the eighth highest scores on a national reading test in Februrary; and scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a college entrance exam, improved.
"Those improved test scores certainly don't mean we've solved every problem in our public schools, but they do represent important progress that shouldn't be ignored. Pretending that we haven't seen any improvement is really a slap in the face to our teachers and our students," said Hobson.
"No one is trying to argue that every single measurement of success is shooting through the roof, but at the same time, I think it's disingenuous for Governor Keating to claim that we 'failed' when we increased funding for schools in the 1990's. I don't think Oklahoma will ever fail by allocating more resources to its school kids, especially when we rank 50th in the country in that category.
"Governor Keating apparently disagrees with me, but I don¹t think the reforms of HB 1017 or the increased funding for education was a mistake."
The Governor also indicated in his press release that no school reforms were enacted in Oklahoma during the 1990's, a characterization that just isn't true, according to Hobson.
"I'll give Governor Keating the benefit of the doubt because he didn't live in Oklahoma at the time, but in 1990 policy makers and Oklahoma voters enacted a pretty substantial reform package called HB 1017. We've spent the past nine years implementing reforms ranging from smaller class sizes to a tougher school curriculum," noted Hobson.
"I guess when the Governor says we haven't passed any reforms what he really means is we haven't passed his ideas and his ideas only."
In his public statements on education, Governor Keating has repeatedly called for his version of school "reform," but has been reluctant to attach the funding required to pay for his proposals. Hobson noted that lawmakers have advanced Keating's reform package through the Legislature this session along with reform proposals of their own, keeping the dialogue open on school improvements.
"We've shown a willingness to consider his ideas, but it would be nice if he would meet us halfway and acknowledge that his proposals aren't free. Without money attached to them, Governor Keating's reform initiatives are just one more unfunded mandate handed down by the government. I don't think he supports that," said Hobson.
The Senate budget leader says he is confident that legislators and the Governor will still be able to reach a bipartisan agreement on education this year, one that includes both reforms and a commitment of funding to pay for them.
"I think sometimes public officials get locked into their own rhetoric and they say things in public that they know aren¹t the whole truth. If we continue our discussions and put our various political biases aside, I think we can all agree to an education reform and funding package before sessions adjourns," said Senator Hobson.