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Senators Unveil Improvement Plan for Education, Stress Accountability, Better Access to Advanced Degrees

Saying Oklahomans deserve greater access to college degrees and better accountability in the public schools, members of the Senate Education Committee unveiled an improvement plan for Oklahoma's education system today. The proposed legislation would use a number of incentives to encourage better performance in public education.

"What we're trying to do is encourage students and schools to work harder by offering them a reward of sorts if they succeed. Whether it¹s the hope of a scholarship or the desire to operate with fewer regulations, students and schools will have incentives to perform. We¹ve found the 'carrot and stick' approach works in other arenas. Why not try it in the public education system?" said Senator Cal Hobson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

The reform program is divided into three critical areas: clear and high standards, flexibility at the local level and targeted resources.

Clear and High Standards

  • Set standards and demand accountability -- Create a special oversight commission to develop academic standards for students, schools, school districts and the state. The panel would also recommend financial incentives designed to encourage compliance, in addition to developing a tracking and reporting mechanism to keep school patrons informed of local performance.

"If we want our schools and our students to be the best they can be, we have to give them a target to aim for and then check to see if their hitting the mark. We're trying to create a mechanism that will do just that," said Senator Hobson.

  • End "social promotion", replace with "contingent promotion." -- Discontinue the practice of advancing failing students to the next grade. Employ "contingent promotion" instead, allowing students to advance only if they agree to improve their deficient skills through special tutoring or Summer school.

"Ending 'social promotion' isn¹t as easy as flunking students and then forgetting about them. You have to have a system in place that not only holds them back, but gives them the tools to catch up with their classmates and move on to the next level," said Senator Penny Williams, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

  • Enhance school safety -- Establish partnerships with local police, provide special disciplinary training for teachers and invest in safety technology such as metal detectors, etc.

"Kids can't learn and teachers can't teach if they're working in an unsafe or unstable environment. Instead of telling educators just to do the best they can, we want to give them the tools they need to keep order in the classroom," said Senator Johnnie Crutchfield.

Flexibility at the Local Level

  • Reward schools with deregulation -- Free schools from regulations if they meet necessary standards, allowing them to experiment with other, innovative approaches. Develop "academy schools" that will also be free from certain state regulations.

"We want to leave room for experimentation and innovation. If a school is doing a good job of covering the basics, we also want to give them the opportunity to try some different things in the quest for a higher quality product of education," said Senator Williams.

Targeted Resources

  • Improve access to college degrees -- Create a scholarship program that rewards students who complete additional core courses in high school and meet grade point requirements.

The economic experts say the only way to raise our personal income is to increase the number of college graduates in Oklahoma. If we don't encourage more people to go on to college and give them the means to do so, we'll never reach the level of prosperity many other states enjoy," said Senator Mike Morgan.

  • Expand teacher training/development.
  • Expand early education programs -- Continue to expand state programs for four-year olds and full-day kindergarten.
  • Improve access to math and science programs -- Create 12 new satellite math and science schools to expand students¹ accessibility to advanced math and science courses.
  • Improve classroom technology -- Establish state and local funding sources to purchase additional computers and related technology for the classroom.
  • Alleviate shortage of math and science teachers -- Create special need scholarships for aspiring math and science teachers.

"You can't just push one button and achieve overnight success in our education system. We face challenges in a variety of areas ranging from teacher training to inadequate classroom technology to limited scholarship opportunities. That's why we've tried to cover the waterfront and address all of the areas we believe are critical to success," said Senator Brad Henry.

Citing the current state budget crunch, lawmakers said they did their best to keep the program within realistic financial constraints. The price tag of the proposed initiative is only $27 million in its first year. "We know education needs more resources, but we also have to be realistic given the current budget situation. That's why we worked very hard to keep costs down and explore initiatives that can be accomplished within the current system. We'll do our best to expand resources for schools in the years to come, but in the meantime, we want to set up a framework that will encourage success when the better budget times do arrive," said Senator Hobson.

The education improvement program has been introduced for consideration in the 1999 legislative session. The initiatives have been rolled into several different bills and are being carried by different members of the Senate Education Committee.

"We know the future of our state depends upon the quality of our education system and the people it produces. If we don't do a better job of delivering a high-quality education to a greater number of people, we're going to slip behind in the race for new jobs. Oklahoma can't afford that," said Senator Ted Fisher, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee.

Oklahoma Educational Standards and Accountability Plan

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Senate Communications Division - (405) 521-5605