The technology needs of common education and vocational-technical education should be included in the ongoing discussions about a multi-million dollar capital improvements bond issue for higher education, according to three State Senators.
The talks to date have focused solely on the capital needs of higher education, but Senator Cal Hobson, Senator Penny Williams and Senator Ben Robinson want the negotiations expanded to include the other two branches of education.
"You can't really talk about doing something meaningful for education unless you include all three branches in the discussion. There's no question that higher education has pressing capital needs, but the same is true for both common education and vocational-technical education," said Senator Hobson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
"We have to remember our education system is like the proverbial three-legged stool. If we neglect one or two of the legs, we jeopardize the entire operation."
The lawmakers want to add at least $150 million to the bond issue total, earmarking the additional proceeds for new technology in the public schools and vo-tech institutions. In the discussions thus far, the total for higher education alone has hovered around the $350 million mark.
"We think everyone can be a winner in this bond issue. When there are so many needs in common education, it wouldn't make sense for us to arbitrarily exclude it. We have an opportunity to help all our students and we should take advantage of it," said Senator Williams, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
The Legislature has attempted to address the technology needs of common and vocational-technical education with various funding initiatives in recent years, but the money hasn't been enough to make a major impact. Senator Robinson, who was instrumental in securing the funding for the state fiber optic network OneNet, said Oklahoma could make another substantial step forward with the help of additional bond issue funding.
"We've succeeded in wiring some of our schools for computers and Internet access, but we don't have the money to finish the job and probably won't have it in the foreseeable future. The only way to cover all our bases on technology is with a big infusion of cash and quite frankly, the only realistic way to get that kind of money is through a bond issue," said Senator Robinson.
"If we want our kids to have the best learning tools at their disposal, we'll make sure school techonology is added to this latest bond package."
Because the planning for the higher education bond issue is still in the preliminary stages, the legislators do not believe it will be difficult to add common ed and vo-tech to the discussions. The Governor and legislative leaders are expected to work through the summer, trying to reach an agreement on a funding mechanism and a list of projects.
"There's still plenty of time to put a bond issue together that includes common ed and vo-tech. We don't want to get in such a big hurry that we miss out on a critical opportunity to help all three branches of education," said Senator Hobson.-END-