Don Ford Organization of Oklahoma Rural Schools
I have loved devoting my heart and soul to teaching small town students for the past four decades. I was drawn to rural schools early in my career because of the connection to the community.
This is a special opportunity to run a school where you know every child’s name and can communicate with every parent.
Rural Oklahomans are proud of our schools and see them as a hub of our communities. Whole towns are rallying behind our kids from first term on Monday morning to fourth term on Friday night. Where people live far from each other, schools bring us closer.
As a former Principal in communities such as Mason, Paden and Okemah and Superintendent in Oilton, Midway, Alva and Holdenville, it was my duty to instill in our students values that would help them become leaders.
One of the lessons I taught was that our choices have consequences.
We’ve heard a lot about choice lately, especially in education. During this legislative session, lawmakers are pushing to expand Oklahoma’s school choice and voucher programs through the Oklahoma Empowerment Act.
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The bill would divert hundreds of millions of education dollars from public school students to pay families who enroll in private school or homeschooling.
For students in our rural communities, there is no debate about school choice. Rural families overwhelmingly choose their local public schools and the educational opportunities they provide.
The plan offers no benefit to students and families in our rural communities, but we will still pay the price—literally—if this bill becomes law.
Under the proposal, when families — even those who already enroll students in private schools — use the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, that money is transferred from taxpayer dollars used to fund all public schools statewide. .
Every public school in Oklahoma will lose significant funding if this bill passes, regardless of the private choices offered in their district.
It’s no secret that many of our small towns have lower incomes and property values than metropolitan and suburban areas. While schools in metropolitan and suburban areas receive greater financial support from local taxes, rural schools are often more dependent on state funding.
State dollars make up a larger percentage of most rural school budgets and are critical to helping small towns educate their children.
That is why this bill is so retrograde. If enacted, every time families in Oklahoma City or Tulsa receive a voucher to place their children in private schools, money is taken away from a rural student’s public education.
The 90% of Oklahoma students enrolled in public schools will all lose their funding, so the 10% in private or home-schooled schools will be eligible to receive thousands of dollars each.
For years, rural educators and the cities they represent have fought hard for the historic increase in education funding in 2018. Passing this voucher bill would be a damaging setback to to this progress.
Oklahoma already ranks near the bottom of the nation in education funding. Can our children and their communities afford to pay the price of a massive cut?
Remember that our choices have consequences.
Don Ford is executive director of the Oklahoma Rural Schools Organization and resides in the small town of Dewar.