Fallin discusses education funding at town hall meeting

September 27, 2012

The Tulsa World

By Randy Krehbiel, World Staff Writer

Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday she remains committed to education but stopped short of promising more money for it.

"It is a priority for me and certainly for our administration that we do everything we can to see that our children get the best education possible," Fallin said in response to Marlow Perkins Sipes, co-founder of the group 49th is Not OK, during a town hall with 11 of her Cabinet members at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.

"Education in our state is not a priority." Sipes said. "Funding of education needs to become a priority to address many of the issues you've spoken about today."

Sipes asked Fallin for the governor's plans to put more money into classrooms and to pay for "mandates you've provided without funding." Fallin said her administration is about to commission a comprehensive study of the state education system to make it more efficient.

Mike Trokey, grandfather of two Jenks Public Schools students, later told Fallin, "The amount of money given public schools this year was inadequate. The Tulsa community, the Jenks community, went to all the wealthy people in the district and they begged them to put money down so they could hire teachers. This can't go on. ... Studies won't change that."

Partly by design and partly not, education was the dominant theme of the 90-minute meeting. The presentations by Fallin and four of her Cabinet members during the first hour included the announcement of a new science, technology engineering and math - or STEM - initiative, and Education Secretary Phyllis Hudecki talked about meeting the challenges of the proposal.

Stephen McKeever, Fallin's secretary of science and technology, presented the STEM initiative, called OneOklahoma, and said it would require many changes and, he suggested, perhaps some money.

"Where the rubber meets the road is the teacher," McKeever said. "The teacher is the single-most important part of our K-12 education system."

McKeever said the Governor's Science and Technology Council made several recommendations to "increase the number and quality of our STEM teachers," including distinct "career paths" and financial incentives.

"If we're going to raise standards, if we're going to increase requirements, we're going to have to look at raising pay," Hudecki said.

Oklahoma high school students have high aspirations not met by academic reality, she said.

"We have a complete mismatch between what our students ... say they want to do after high school and preparing themselves to do that," she said.

Hudecki said 87 percent of Oklahoma high school seniors taking the ACT college entrance exam in 2011 said they wanted to earn at least a bachelor's degree but only 25 percent of them meet the benchmarks in science and only 35 percent in math.

The meeting ran 30 minutes longer than scheduled and about 10 people were still waiting to ask questions when it ended. Besides education, it touched on issues related to transportation, employment, business development and national politics.