SQ 779: What Our Children Need

img_8630By Christy Watson

My 9-year-old son spent the first day of his fall break getting braces. My husband and I considered whether we should wait until he’s a bit older but opted for what we agreed offers the best long-term outcome. Hopefully, this dental intervention will prevent some future issues that might be more painful – both to him and our family budget.

Our thought process was a pretty standard approach to decision-making: what must we do today to achieve a long-term goal while minimizing pain along the way. A delay was likely to cause more pain – physical and financial – in the long run.

I feel the same way about the current debate over Oklahoma’s education funding and State Question 779. Every choice involves some level of pain. But only one choice – improving education funding through the passage of SQ 779 — is guaranteed to move Oklahoma closer to its long-term goal of a better educated citizenry.

I’ve seen and heard it argued that SQ 779 is bad public policy. But I wonder, what’s so good about the alternative? Is it good public policy to:

Braces hurt no matter when they’re put on. But the pain of the teacher shortage, growing class sizes, fewer educational opportunities and four-day school weeks isn’t temporary for the children in today’s classrooms. Opportunity lost can’t be restored.

I don’t want my son or his big sister to wait for a “solution” or a “better way” that may never come. My vote isn’t a political message to state lawmakers about accountability, either. Our schools don’t have what’s necessary to provide the education we want for our children. My vote is me deciding my children and 700,000 other Oklahoma children in public schools deserve better.

Our state demands teachers do more with less. It insists our children meet higher academic standards despite the growing number of underprepared and underqualified teachers, classrooms with fewer resources and the underfunding of mandates and reforms.

The kindergarten teacher who helped my daughter and her classmates learn to read survived a cancer battle that year. A few years later while I was away from home for an extended time while my sister fought cancer, she was my son’s teacher and offered to take him to a mother-son game night at school. She’s priceless — and representative of the most important investment we make in the education of our children.

Research tells us an investment in teacher salaries, recruitment and retention is wise. The classroom teacher is the most important in-school factor when it comes to student achievement. If we don’t launch a bold battle to keep our teachers in Oklahoma and in the profession, we are setting up our children and our state for some serious if not irrevocable long-term pain.

Some problems – like dental issues – don’t get easier with time. They just grow more complicated and expensive. There’s no time to waste.

Christy Watson is OSSBA’s Communications Director and the mom of two children in public schools.