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COMMENTARY
State Question 799
Teachers confronted proponents of SQ 799 Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in the Oklahoma Secretary of State's office. (William W. Savage III)
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To the editors:

While the teacher walkout may be over, many questions remain to be tackled regarding public education in Oklahoma. Most of the state seems to agree that we can, and should, support students and teachers. An Oklahoman poll found 87 percent of respondents in support of the teacher walkout. Yet, years of broken promises and shell games have left people frustrated. Oklahoma still spends 30 percent less on education than it did a decade ago, despite welcoming tens of thousands of new students.

For generations, we have robbed students of a proper education and opportunities for success later in life. Broken desks and classrooms in disrepair are the new symbols of Oklahoma education. Our struggling schools are a reflection of the declining investment we have made over the past 25 years. In the wake of the recent passage of long overdue, hard-fought pro-public school legislation, signatures are being collected to put State Question 799 on the November ballot. The purpose of State Question 799 is to rescind all recent gains for public education. The group proposing the question claims to be for education but provides no realistic alternative to HB1010x.

Ninety-six percent of Oklahoma students are served by public schools, with private school enrollment dropping over the past 10 years. When compared apples to apples, private schools underperform public schools. Private schools may be appealing at first glance because they aren’t bound to the same standards as public schools. They can be selective about who gets admitted to bolster test scores, they are not required to serve special needs students at all, and private schools in Oklahoma are not required to participate in state testing.

Public schools in Oklahoma welcome everybody, and they keep smaller communities — what many of us consider to be the backbone of the country — alive. In some small Oklahoma towns, the school system can serve as the social and cultural center for an entire region. If you doubt the centrality of public schools, consider taking a drive through rural Oklahoma on a cool Friday night in fall when football games, band recitals and art shows are in season.

It has taken more than 25 years to step forward for public education. We can’t afford to take any steps back. State Question 799 is a threat, and I implore you to not sign the petition.

William Blair
Norman, Oklahoma

(Editor’s Note: The following Letter to the Editors refers to State Question 799. NonDoc runs Letters to the Editors up to about 300 words and reserves the right to edit lightly for length, style and grammar. To submit a letter for publication, please write to letters@nondoc.com.)