BY DAVID PERRYMAN
GRADY COUNTY —
From my family to you, we hope that your Christmas week is safe and full of joy and that you remember those around you who are less fortunate. Benevolence and compassion are qualities that we need to foster in ourselves. Share of yourself with others now and make it a habit in the coming year.
By the time that you read this, we may be in the midst of a real winter wonderland. It is comical to listen to the weatherman bounce back and forth on his forecast. Right now, they say that it will be very, very cold on Christmas Day and the day after; other than that, if could be wet and it could be dry.
We shouldn’t blame the weatherman too much for missing the mark however. As Oklahomans, we are all familiar with Will Rogers’ quote that, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it will change.” There are probably a lot of places on the earth where that is true, but Oklahoma is the only place on earth that can claim that authentic saying. We were very fortunate to have Will Rogers as the favorite son of this great state. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the beginning of Will Rogers’ syndicated column in the New York Times.
Last week I outlined the bills that I had “pre-filed” for consideration in the upcoming legislative session. The subjects of those bills ranged from education and libraries to ambulance services and rural fire protection. They also included concerns such as water, tourism, redistricting and other matters.
This week, I would like to discuss the education bills more in depth. One of my education proposals deals with the student teacher ratio and the other is designed to protect rural schools from forced consolidation.
With regard to student teacher ratio, we can thank Governor Henry Bellmon who was instrumental in working with the state legislature toward education reform and in April 1990 signed House Bill 1017 into law. HB 1017 contained many landmark reforms, not the least of which was the reduction of class size to 20 students in grades K-6 and limiting the total number of pupils a teacher instructs to 140.
Unfortunately, in the name of budgetary shortfalls and funding cuts, the State has not held up its end of the bargain and has granted waivers and exemptions to the class size limitation. Students are shortchanged, when class sizes are allowed to exceed the limit established by HB 1017. This is particularly devastating in grades Pre-K through the 3rd grade when our primary elementary teachers are doing their best to teach children to read, write and do their arithmetic. Class sizes of even 20 are too large for teachers of these young children to effectively teach basic reading and math skills that will allow them to function in higher grades.
Therefore, my proposal is to eliminate the ability to easily issue class size waivers and exemptions in Pre-K through 3rd grade classes. I realize that budgetary issues may still make it necessary for exemptions under certain circumstances, but students in upper grades would be less likely to be negatively impacted if they were given a solid foundation in reading and writing in the lower grades.
My other education bill will protect rural school districts from forced consolidation. As many of you are aware, I graduated from a small school and have personally witnessed the positive results of the support and devotion that a school district receives from its community and the pride and sense of accomplishment that a community can have toward its school system.
Last summer an interim study by the Oklahoma House of Representatives attempted to identify school districts that would be closed based on three factors. Unfortunately, none of the factors were directly tied to efficiency and only one of the factors had anything at all to do with performance. Likewise, none of the factors considered community impact of closure, the distance that students would have to travel if the school were closed or the demographics of the community.
Of course urban legislators who fail to see the economic impact a school system has on its community and basically believe that all students are exactly alike in their experiences are continuously trying to eliminate rural school districts by identifying them as wasteful and inefficient.
My bill will require the consideration of these missing factors and show that in most cases rural school districts are extraordinarily efficient. The consideration of these factors will show that the school districts in my house district long ago eliminated waste and excess. These districts should be recognized, rewarded and commended for delivering quality education on a limited dollar to the students of our communities, rather than threatened with closure and elimination.
Healthy school districts make healthy communities…For the Common Good. Have a great holiday.
I am honored to be your State Representative and I encourage you to contact me at any time at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or at 405-557-7401 or at my office in Room 539B at the State Capitol.