By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
This is one in a series of articles in advance of the Nov. 6 election.
A survey released earlier this year by Gov. Mary Fallin found Oklahoma business owners value a public education system that turns out skilled workers.
Funding cuts to the state’s education system during the past few years, some say, threaten the ability of schools to produce that outcome. Figures provided by the Oklahoma Policy Institute show funding through the state aid formula has been reduced by $222 million while enrollment has grown by 22,000 students.
Both candidates competing for the Senate District 9 post in the Oklahoma Legislature said something must be done to turn that trend around. They differed somewhat about how that might be done.
Sen. Earl Garrison, who is seeking a third term, said he “would continue to advocate for adequate funding of public schools.” Republican challenger Barney S. Taylor agreed, but said restoring funding to pre-recession levels may take a few years given all “the other challenges our state is facing.”
“Education has always been important to me — public education has made this country what it is,” Garrison said, citing his years as an educator before he was elected to office. “We have lost about $200 million in funding ... and I would like to see us try to put that funding back.”
Garrison said funding cuts to public education have gutted the reforms put in place by House Bill 1017, a landmark piece of legislation passed in 1990. The reforms included increased funding for education, smaller class sizes and higher teacher pay among other reforms “that were good for kids” and “good for learning.”
Taylor, who competed unsuccessfully as a mayoral candidate in the city of Muskogee’s 2008 election, said he would support the development of more charter schools, virtual education and home-schooling. He also would focus more on accountability.
“Schools are closing because of corruption within the system — even when the school is not closed the effects are damaging,” Taylor said. “While ... the vast majority of educational professionals are certainly upstanding and honest pillars of our communities, there are those that are not — they must be found and dealt with much sooner.”
The senatorial candidates also advocated a greater emphasis on Career Tech, the state’s vocational education system.
“We need to take a serious look at how to better fund our education system,” Garrison said. “We need to work to create more opportunities through Career Tech for jobs that pay a livable wage.”
Taylor concurred, saying many career paths don’t require college degrees. But almost all require some sort of specialized training.
“This, coupled with the need for continuing education and updates for those who have more advanced degrees means that we need to ensure that our junior colleges and vo-techs are well funded and relevant,” Taylor said. “More attention needs paid to them.”
Garrison and Taylor will square off Nov. 6 during the general election.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.