Will spend­ing in­crease im­prove stu­dent re­sults?

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION -

THIS year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion will be re­mem­bered pri­mar­ily for pas­sage of mul­ti­ple tax in­creases that were used, in part, to boost ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing. Law­mak­ers passed the largest teacher pay raise in state his­tory, giv­ing raises that ranged from $5,000 to $8,000 apiece and av­er­aged $6,100. The Leg­is­la­ture ap­pro­pri­ated $2.9 bil­lion to com­mon ed­u­ca­tion, the largest school ap­pro­pri­a­tion ever.

No sig­nif­i­cant re­forms were en­acted si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It was ar­gued Ok­la­homa’s poor ed­u­ca­tion rank­ings are due pri­mar­ily to fund­ing, not struc­tural is­sues or flawed ap­proaches. We’ll know in time if that the­ory was cor­rect.

Take teacher pay. For sev­eral years, school of­fi­cials have com­plained of a teacher short­age. That com­plaint is heard in vir­tu­ally ev­ery state, but of­fi­cials in­sisted Ok­la­homa’s short­age was more se­vere, point­ing to grow­ing use of emer­gency cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Those cer­tifi­cates, given to ap­pli­cants who have rel­e­vant sub­ject-mat­ter ex­per­tise but not ed­u­ca­tion de­grees, rose to nearly 2,000 this school year. While that’s only a frac­tion of the 40,000-plus teach­ing jobs in Ok­la­homa, this was deemed a ma­jor prob­lem. At the same time, of­fi­cials said ed­u­ca­tors were leav­ing Ok­la­homa in droves to take teach­ing jobs in other states.

With the new pay raises, teacher salaries will in­crease 15 per­cent to 17 per­cent in a sin­gle year. Av­er­age teacher pay will be far above the re­gional av­er­age, and above the av­er­age in ev­ery state bor­der­ing Ok­la­homa ex­cept Texas. And, af­ter ac­count­ing for both ben­e­fits and cost of liv­ing, the av­er­age pay-and-ben­e­fits pack­age in Ok­la­homa will be slightly bet­ter than even the Texas av­er­age. Af­ter ac­count­ing for cost-ofliv­ing dif­fer­ences, it’s es­ti­mated Ok­la­homa’s av­er­age teacher pay will be ranked as high as 12th-best in the na­tion.

Will the use of emer­gency cer­tifi­cates evap­o­rate? Will teach­ing ap­pli­cants now far ex­ceed teach­ing po­si­tions? Will we now read of other states com­plain­ing they are los­ing teach­ers to Ok­la­homa?

An av­er­age of 63 per­cent of Ok­la­homa stu­dents scored be­low pro­fi­cient in the 18 state tests ad­min­is­tered in grades three through eight and 10th grade. On the most re­cent round of Na­tional As­sess­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional Progress test­ing, 65 per­cent to 71 per­cent of Ok­la­homa fourth-grade stu­dents were be­low grade level in math, read­ing and science, while 72 per­cent to 76 per­cent of eighth-grade stu­dents were be­low pro­fi­cient in those sub­jects. Fourth-grade read­ing scores, which were above the na­tional av­er­age two years prior, dropped sig­nif­i­cantly and are now be­low the na­tional av­er­age. Ok­la­homa scores are be­low the na­tional av­er­age in all grade-and-sub­ject ar­eas NAEP as­sesses. Also, 40 per­cent of Ok­la­homa’s public high school grad­u­ates in 2016 re­quired at least one re­me­dial course in col­lege.

Since this year’s ed­u­ca­tion ap­pro­pri­a­tion in­creased by 19 per­cent, will we see a com­pa­ra­ble in­crease in stu­dents per­form­ing at grade level in ma­jor sub­jects or pre­pared for col­lege? Will stu­dent scores be above av­er­age, at a min­i­mum?

This year’s in­crease in taxes and spend­ing should gen­er­ate im­prove­ment in stu­dent learn­ing. If it doesn’t, then it’ll be ev­i­dence that struc­tural re­form is needed and that Ok­la­homa’s ed­u­ca­tion chal­lenges re­main un­met.

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