The Pryor Times

November 7, 2013

Rewarding excellence


Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

PRYOR, OK — Ever give your child money for a job well done – maybe $5 for keeping his or her room clean or for helping with chores around the house, maybe a reward for good grades?

It works in business on a larger scale, and it should work the same in state government. You reward exceptional performance, and in so doing, you incentivize others to strive for similar success.

That’s the idea behind reserving about $16 million of the State Department of Education’s $2.5 billion fiscal year 2015 budget request recently approved by the State Board of Education. The proposal will go to the state Legislature when it convenes in February.

The request represents a $174.9 million increase over last year, with an $81.4 million increase in financial support for public schools, part of the $1.9 billion overall in the State Aid Funding Formula.

Of that amount, I’m requesting that 20 percent, or $16 million, be used to reward schools that have higher-than-average populations of students that qualify for free and reduced-priced meals but are also posting reading and math scores that are higher than the state average.

People often point to high poverty as a barrier for student success. Poverty undoubtedly has a significant impact in the classroom. But we cannot throw our hands up and resign these children to a preordained fate.

Successful educators have found that when they have high poverty rates, they must redouble their efforts, innovate, and try strategies that are different from their suburban counterparts. They make sure they have all hands on deck.

We’ve seen some incredible results from schools with high poverty rates, and we want to make sure we recognize their hard work and success and encourage others to duplicate their best practices.

At the same time, we are accounting for increased enrollment at many public schools and asking for about $65 million in additional funds to accommodate such growth.

Our budget also asks for $69 million to adequately implement various education reforms.  We recognize that districts need proper funding for such state-mandated reforms as Achieving Classroom Excellence graduation requirements or third-grade reading standards. This is an answer to that request from districts.

I also am urging district superintendents to use part of the new funds to increase teacher pay. There is no question that inadequate teacher salaries are a big reason we lose many of our best and brightest educators to other states. A pay raise would help make clear the value we place on their hard work and dedication.

Of course, we will see fewer dollars go to the classroom this year In the wake of the Affordable Care Act. The consequences of Obamacare are severe and painful. Millions of dollars that could have gone to the classroom instead must be eaten up in insurance costs, a $59 million jump over last year’s figures.

Still, we believe our budget request is responsible, realistic and an important step forward in connecting new funds to proven performance. Oklahomans must know their tax dollars are being invested wisely in schools, and we believe this budget ensures just that.