|Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell are pictured here outside the state Capitol with students and staff from Crossover Preparatory Academy after the State of the State address on February 3, 2020.|
[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
In education debates, some people see children whose lives can be immeasurably improved, while others see children only as tools to gain political power. This sad contrast became glaringly apparent during Gov. Kevin Stitt’s recent State of the State speech.
Stitt urged lawmakers to raise the cap on the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program in order to “provide additional incentives for donors, resulting in more public-school grants and private-school scholarships.”
In attendance were Alegra Williams and her sons, Sincere and Chaves. When Sincere attended a local public school, he struggled and officials told Williams he had learning disabilities. But when a tax-credit scholarship allowed Sincere to attend Crossover Preparatory Academy, an all-boys private school in north Tulsa, Sincere jumped two-and-a-half reading levels. Crossover officials found he has no learning disabilities. Similarly, Chaves jumped three reading grade levels. Tax-credit scholarships allowed both boys to attend Crossover.
In touting his support for raising the cap on the tax-credit scholarship program, Stitt called on lawmakers to “join me and their mom in applauding” Chaves and Sincere’s “hard work this year.” When he did, the official Twitter account of the Oklahoma Education Association complained that Stitt had “called for a standing ovation of a family that left public schools for a private.”
For the OEA and similar entities, the success of children like Chaves and Sincere cannot be cheered. They view such children’s success only as a loss of political power. The OEA’s action was reminiscent of congressional Democrats’ refusal to applaud record-low unemployment for racial minorities and blue-collar income gains during President Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union address.
Trump, by the way, echoed Stitt and endorsed a federal version of Oklahoma’s Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act in his speech, saying the “next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools.”
Supporting tax-credit scholarships and children like Sincere does not mean abandoning efforts to improve traditional public schools. Given that Oklahoma’s educational outcomes remain among the nation’s worst, we cannot afford to ignore those schools. But neither can we afford to squander children’s lives by telling them to expend their limited school years waiting for traditional schools to get their act together.
Like the Soviet Union’s old “five year plans,” the “turnaround” efforts of many local districts lead only to calls for more multi-year improvement programs. In the meantime, all 13 years of a child’s K-12 experience fly by and those youth are robbed of a quality education.
Even if the OEA doesn’t understand this, Governor Stitt and President Trump realize we are talking about children’s lives and Oklahoma’s future. For both to be brighter, Oklahoma lawmakers must side with Stitt and Trump, not the OEA.