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Observercast Episode 10: Public Education In A Pandemic

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I'm Oklahoma Observer Editor Arnold Hamilton. And I'm Marianne Martin and this is observer cast your weekly deep dive into Oklahoma politics and policy powered by the Oklahoma Observer. Democracy Foundation this week we explored the impact the coveted nineteen pandemic Oklahoma's public education system and on Oklahoma families with State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister on March Twenty Fifth Superintendent Hofmeister in the State Board of Education took the extraordinary step of ordering all Oklahoma public schools closed in an effort to help thwart this brand of the corona virus as the overseers of more than five hundred independent school districts across the State Superintendent Hofmeister. Her State Department of Education team suddenly found themselves with a Herculean task. Get TEACHERS ADMINISTRATORS. And Seven Hundred Thousand Plus K through twelve students and their families up and running on virtual learning for the rest of the school year. They had three weeks three weeks to make the transition from traditional brick and mortar schools. The pandemic is hardly the only challenge facing Oklahoma's chronically underfunded public education system. Even the public education critics are fond of pointing out. It receives a large portion of the state budget than any other vital service. Oklahoma's per people spending still scrapes the bottom of the barrel nationally. Moreover teacher pay remains low by national standards and mediocre by regional standards despite to increases in the last three years that has cost thousands of the state's best and brightest to flee perpetually overcrowded classrooms resulting in thousands of classrooms filled with but underqualified emergency certified teachers. The reality is Oklahoma. Never fully invested in public education state leaders routinely give lip service to its importance that it represents Oklahoma's future vitality and prosperity but only once have lawmakers and governors their money where their mouths were in nineteen ninety-one Governor Henry Battlements Education Reform package included in house built-in seventeen became a national sensation. Even Uber Conservative Wall Street Journal. Editorial page heralded the reforms. Unfortunately it didn't take long for lawmakers to begin rolling back the reforms off because they were deemed too expensive hardly the fact is lawmakers and governors often gave priority instead of corporate welfare. Think gross production tax cuts and income tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the state's wealthiest residents at the expense of Oklahoma School. Children Teachers now in her second term. Superintendent Hofmeister is not only juggling the demands of educating Oklahoma students in the age of a pandemic but also navigating seems to be a permanent harass chronic underfunding widespread poverty that results in more than half the state's public school students qualifying for free or reduced lunches. The challenges of rural versus urban education including the disparity between wealthy suburban districts in financially challenge rural and urban districts. Superintendent Hofmeister was originally scheduled to join us for April Nights Oklahoma Observer newsmakers event it full circle books and Oklahoma City. But in these days of social distancing and close schools we ended up visiting virtually instead My Name's Joy Hofmeister and I'm the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for Oklahoma and I get to work with five hundred. Forty one school districts all of those who are leading in districts and teachers and the students they serve. It's a pleasure to have here today. I know there's a lot going on in the world so we're really grateful for your time this evening. Thank you glad to be here. So these are these are strange and unique times to say the least but what is really jumped out at you. A schools have closed across the state because the pandemic has given you a new appreciation her a better understanding maybe of some of the challenges across the state and maybe identify some holes that We need to be looking at long-term to get Oklahoma public education to the level that it needs to be. Yeah I think that's a really good point. And certainly what stands out is just the flexibility that we've witnessed of district leaders and then those school principals and teachers all working very quickly to put together a very different delivery alternative delivery method of with very little notice to reconnect and reengage with students. And and it's just been really incredible to see what I have noticed as well though is something that this is an opportunity to shine a brighter. Light on the inequity that exists within the state for a very long time. It has but we now have an opportunity to make that connectivity between teacher and school Sorry within the school and the household and families and students with regard to digital activity. Internet broadband devices That's a glaring hole and I believe we can use this time to actually invest strategically with some of the stimulus dollars to overcome that standing. Inequity Superintendent Hofmeister. Can you go in detail about what that inequity looks like I know you know. And we're aware of the issue. I really think there are probably some especially like the more affluent communities that really don't understand the need for a more equitable access to telecommunications around the state specifically in the rural areas so could you go into more detail about that. Yes thank you. It is Very very clear. That of we have connectivity issues in rural Oklahoma but the issue of not having digital devices or access to that also in the home exists in urban populations as well so for different reasons we have different barriers and then a gap in access and opportunity. what we did. I was to Survey our school districts an ask them for a breakdown of what kind of devices do you need A. Where are the gaps in your schools and put a number to it so that we can then collect that by county and then take that two different carriers and provide more of a state level and Sir and Work with other agencies whether that's the corporation commission or the Governor's Office has a keen interest in this as well to to really once and for all bring that connective and it's going to. It's going to look different in different communities so you may not be able to lay down fiber and those cable fibers in some of the rules settings and so it's going to need to look different with hot spots are or Additional broadband and towers In other places it may be as simple as just getting a mobile device for Mobile Internet access through Cellular Service But again we would run into an issue in certain parts of the state where cellular connectivity isn't available either. So again having a real good view of the State County by county and then district by district and having more of an asset map of where we have strong connectivity and where we do not and then finding a statewide plan in a statewide way to address this So that it goes far beyond the global pandemic and this time of crisis that that connectivity can be available for what we believe is the future of education which is more of a digital interface with a blended delivery instead of simply The traditional model that we've had in the past so to follow up on that. I have two questions because one thing that I've thought of As we've gone through this processes You know with public libraries shutting down as part the response to the pandemic for especially in the urban areas that eliminates one access point for a lot of families to the digital firm But then I also think there might be some some older folks who who don't like maybe folks who don't have kids in school right now who don't necessarily see the need for technology digital technology In who might think of devices as a distraction distractions versus as learning tools? So can you kind of help make that connection? Maybe for some older listeners. So they can kind of understand because kids are norman schools. My daughter goes to middle school so she received a laptop in. So you know by. Kids are very much wired. But I think maybe lot of older folks don't understand the necessity for technology in why it's not just a passive thing anymore for education. I appreciate that. That's a really good point so just to give you an example of what this could look like for students who do have access A school strict can have a tool that will allow students to get on a computer and be connected with their teacher and it is a on learning platform and that platform would then allow Our students to interact with it and it would begin with a baseline Level of understanding of where that student is and then the different academic standards were trying to teach in different grade levels in a particular discipline. And then it's interactive where it continues one child at a time one learner at a time to adapt to what they need. So it's not a very static Type of interaction where everyone looks at a screen. And you're all going the same pace and you finish a module or a lesson. Instead this one would allow This kind of delivery to personalized learning to reinforce where the interaction with the student identifies a weakness in skill or understanding and then the off provide additional support in that area before moving on and then the teacher has the ability in this kind of setting that we're talking about To see the class of students and to be able to monitor their progress their weaknesses their strengths even to group them in a virtual grouping and provide additional attention in their one on one conversations however that might happen over the phone or through the computer with a zoom connection. Where they they basically face time can see one another and and provide that personal support as the teacher. That's you know in the neighborhood. And a part of their community. And yet that kind of ability to customize is really missing for students that don't have this kind of activity which we know than what might be the substitute. Is You know some paper lessons. Which are really teaching to the middle instead of to the actual need of the student and some students are ready to go much further and so it online platform allows students that are advanced ready for more to remain challenged and to be able to continue learning growing throughout the year. So that's what we want for every child so in a way it evens out the playing field. Even violent makes it more complex in terms of how to reach each individual student. Yeah and that's a great way to say it and as a teacher I know what it's like to have a limited amount of time in the day and when you are physically meeting one on one with children to assess that imagine just having a tool like this that really is able to to look at each of your students and provide information. Rapidly back to Shoes that instructor to really customize then the approach for each child so it's it's maximizing time and opportunity for kids to learn and grow. So do you have. Is it too early to to really have a handle on the statewide on where the Desserts are issue calling for lack of a better term. Or you know who way ahead of others and WHO's way behind and and and and how that translates into students at where they are currently. Yeah so it's not too early because we actually do have this. And we've we are examining this data We know that. Roughly about eighty percent of our school districts and the students within their districts. Have the kind of connectivity that we would want to see so it's now Focusing on that twenty percent and again the answers to solving that are going to look different and we we have to be able to apply different levels of or different types of solutions and we know that our schools are libraries. Often restaurants have hot spots. There they are connectivity hotspot but the limits there are limits placed on them that it that their bandwidth or. I'm sorry not bandwith that they're Connective doesn't go beyond their their district bound like the the campus. And so it's it's really working with our Harriers to help us be creative at this time to expand that so that others at home that they can't be in homes hard wiring right now. It's not safe. Many of the carriers aren't allowing that. So what could we do instead? So that's where we get into some of these creative approaches like hard or make your bus a hot spot and put the bus in the neighborhood and close enough within reach in a concentrated area. Maybe an apartment complex. You know somewhere where. There is a common gathering where people can easily gain access to that. And that's fixed. That's not a solution. So we we want to use this time where they're going to be federal funds for this particular use really. Let Ridge this in not be distracted or not veer off from a commitment to connecting every Oklahoma student. So so you actually A. If you actually had districts that have parked buses in neighborhoods apartment complexes or or is this all a sort of still in theory at this point. No you can't do that. I don't know If that's happened in Oklahoma frankly I wouldn't be surprised that we've already got that but it is in other states for sure and it's something we could easily do right now but the your buses could be could be wired for just like cars. You know you're you see That on your TV commercials about certain brands of cars that that also serve as a hot spot but it is something that that's not a permanent solution. The the access at home is what we really want to focus on that lasts beyond this particular crisis. Which you seem Roy. You seem to be saying that that that this crisis presents an opportunity for state to develop a long term or or probably already has somewhat of a longterm strategy but Bibi refined along terms. Reggie begin to invest in a long term strategy that uses technology to enhance what's available to students through traditional classrooms across the state. Yes that's right and you would be surprised that some of our most rural areas actually are doing a really great job of this it. It comes down to the priority of the leader over the past years or or more to have already made cer- priority and have accomplished this so we've already seen it in some areas. It's not just that It just can't be done. It's just that when we are now at a place where we need everyone to have access and they don't then it is a very pronounced and that needs to happen regardless of WHO's in charge From from this point forward. Let's make it happen for everyone just like we expect our kids to be able to go to a school. That provides strong academic instruction and that we are a part of one system of support in public school. And this shouldn't it shouldn't be about who has access to the Internet. New Does in my opinion. This this is part of joining the digital age and being ready for life after school and it starts right now. So what role will your agency actually have in with the rollout and I guess the option of this the these technologies you know in this ad because it's not just the schools right. I mean it's you're saying you can't necessarily fiber but I'm just seems like a very encompassing goal which I it'll it'll involve a lot. I'm saying it varies -opoly but it'll allotted actors. It does but I think this is something we can do and it. It must be a priority and if leaders aren't going to work together it won't happen so the district's alone can do it for their own. We want to be able to say all kids have access and that means that Oklahoma needs to provide access all across the state. And we gotTa have someone shepherding that and I know this is a priority of of many already but I think this presents a time where we've got since of urgency and we do have some unknowns yet on what will instruction and school look like in the summer in the fall. We don't know so. Let's let's use this right now as a dry run or perhaps even a pole start to bring Oklahoma education into the digital age for all kids. I mean it just it's it can be transformative for the state. Imagine if any child could access the Internet and have the ability to families even got. She's online get your associate's degree your bachelor's degree Line there's so many opportunities beyond the K. Through twelve student and I think the learning even the students the very young students sitting down next to a parent or grandparent. Who may not have great literacy. You know just the opportunity for it to you know infused with the rest of the Family. I I mean I think this could be absolutely transformative for the state. It really can be an at the same time that we're talking about this. I think we also have to underscore though the personal connection and what can never be replaced. Which is that relationship. The relationship is what builds that community. It's what builds trust between a student and teacher. We know that when there is a strong tie we see that academic progress increase for students. So these are tools that we're talking about but we're talking about important tools. That should be a part of any cats education. It scares some people though doesn't it? I mean I think there are some people who think when you're when you're describing this world this futuristic world their mindset there's a concern that You know traditional brick and mortar. Schools are going to go by the wayside. I don't I don't know that that is Something that you would see really a. I don't know that that's a very founded Sierra but it certainly is one that I think people might have and What I think we still have to come back to is. There's nothing that can take the place of that bond and the blended model is much. I think more productive. We've seen that through some who've experimented with an all online education and I just don't see how that is actually successful for every every child or even the majority of I think what to have more of a blend and you can. You can never replace that that relationship that's built between a teacher in the community with their students. An answer those follow up real quick. I think that it's it's pretty clear that the three of us have a hopeful. Feeling about this. This is a a golden opportunity but it also comes at a time of great economic volatility. And a education I would argue has never been funded properly in this state and We're we're worried about you. Know Revenue Streams and. We're worried about how we're GONNA have a qualified teachers to the classroom and get away from emergency certified teachers. They're all these amazing. You know demanding of priorities out there. That are very difficult to juggle. So how do you prioritize? Clearly this is something that is key to the future. But but how do you juggle that against the need to invest more in in faculty and you all the other areas Whether it be textbooks for whatever yeah well they I think you keep your eye on the goal and you stay focused on how to reach the goal and then work. That plan We we've been fortunate to have Ben One of the first three states to make the decision I I made the decision with our state board and we were It was just Kansas Virginia and Oklahoma at the time that we were going to distance learning through the end of the school year and we needed to make that decision early. Because we didn't want to be planning in a crisis. We needed a the two two week. Dry kind of time if you will. When we were porn teamed in some ways at home after spring break to be really looking at what is needed surveying schools providing any kind of support and helping them launch their distance learning which started on April sixth. So what what we I think I do feel hopeful but it's in some ways it could feel a little bit like whether it was you know a general revenue failure of of past or teacher shortage Like you know we got the the pay raise so it's sort of like two steps forward one step but I really feel like it in a way. It's not that it is just simply that our load has gotten a little heavier But we are continuing to make progress. We will continue. You know the the the climb is a little steeper right now but let's use that that place in time where we find ourselves to use this to do something we know also helps us with that goal which again digital learning. We've just talked about in that connectivity. So we're going to get there and I think if you keep your eyes focused on what our kids deserve and need and you continue to articulate what it takes to work that plan for them we will get there and we will be able to get there because we arts splintered and fire alling and spinning off in lots of different directions but right now it feels to me at least in my conversations with districts that we are all pulling in the same direction and we have a lot of force in momentum and commitment and drive to really do meaningful during this crisis. And I think that's GonNa pull us through some very difficult times yet to come. So how will how it's really early? I mean we're what today's Thursday or on Day. Four of distance learning But what are some kind of our early indicators of what's to come with us you know I I I have a kindergartener a fourth grader. In a schooler. So three very different Three very different things that they have to do you know for a distance learning but What what are you kind of see? A the lessons learned Things that we might take forward from this experience in case we need to prolong the distance learning experience here in the state. I think the I mean we're we're in what might feel like the very preliminary week And a lot of teachers and families are are trying to adjust and My my kind of comment or or encouragement would be To remember first and foremost that we've gotta give some grace and Remember how very important it is to Rian Gay And we're accomplishing that We will have a lot of lessons. Learned that we're not even going to be able to anticipate at this moment but We are not in this alone. Many other states are also experiencing this and Whether it is a time of doing lessons through public broadcasting with our partner has cleared their programming on obt a world and are giving lessons and they change each week with programming Through PBS learning media. That's a support that we haven't really. It's always been there and we're doing that now and so I think there are going to be things that are established through parents. Maybe more engaged than than we've had to have been in some some ways not mu I'm a mom of four raised four kids and I remember I remember off of that and it's a lot to to feel maybe that you're home schooling right now and I want to remind families that we're not asking them to homes. We want them to partner with us and we are working very hard right now to provide some kind of long term solution. Should this go further than the rim remaining weeks of the school year to have ease with this but that we also not feel overwhelmed and that there's some practical tips setting up a routine getting up at the same time going to bed with a bad time of getting dressed is important? I think An exercise and some of the lessons that we hear teachers described. They don't have time to do because there's such a big focus in the spring on statewide testing amount one for this year. Let's let's do some of those application oriented lessons that involve cooking or building or Some experimenting with Common Household Items There are I think opportunities. We've had that have been underutilized. Because we just haven't needed to and we're we're going to develop in some ways that I think we will want to carry with us even when the are pass this crisis so I have to ask you about the teachers Does that I'm getting emotional thinking about it Why families had a very interesting year. Healthwise in so. We have very strong relationships with our teachers in. You know what it. What is this doing for teachers I? I'm just astonished by what they've managed to pull together in in such a short amount of time. But you know from an educator's standpoint. What what what is happening right now. You know how are they Maintaining the connections through classes. Just just what what? What's going on with the teachers right now. I think the teachers are really pulling together. And I'm hearing that as one of the positives of they've missed one another and they are enjoying savoring the time with their their peers and their colleagues and they've missed the physical connection with their students tremendous Lost that they feel I do think some teachers are really saying. And it's true that that you know this is like learning something very new and I'm have said I've taught thirty three years and I feel like a first year teacher of things along those lines so I think there is a learning curve. We're in right now My sister's also teach. She teaches second grade and she just got a brand new students since schools been closed. You know in the buildings so she's learning the new and trying to connect with them. This particular child has I think has some real struggles and she's not able to make the connection until the evening you know late into the evening and so the wall. She's of course grateful to have conversations over the phone with this child She's also I just mentioned my. I feel like my day doesn't ever in you know there's it's just like there isn't structure in that way that we know is healthy over a period of time. There needs to be a defines. This is where this and then here. I focused on on my own family or Prepare the next day and and I'm sure some of this is just part of the adjustment but Oklahoma are known for supporting each other rising to the occasion. Moving Heaven and earth to help those in need and we are seeing that in very inspiring examples all prostate so One thing that I've noticed some other states are Toying with the idea and I wondered if it's anything that ever came across your desk and the State Department's desk and that is this whole notion of requiring a some students to repeat their grades because the lost time at the end of this semester. If you'll look at that and or do you feel like there was a short enough time period before the end of the school year here in Oklahoma that that's not something that's That's needed except for parents. Should decide that would be helpful. Sir Yeah I have seen that on the national conversation and it is important to bring up what you just said about the time that Oklahoma's typically out of school which is really Often early to mid May and we usually do have a period of two three weeks which are involved in statewide testing there at the end so in some ways our kids are getting more time at this moment with some level of of instruction but it is certainly just holding ground. It is not advancing are making gains I I do think that for some states where they go into June. We're talking about heavy loss of of weeks that we've already covered because we start back in August one or some of these months in the summer early summer that are late summer. Excuse me that others are just not back in school yet so it might be a different conversation there but I do. I do worry I do worry for our Kids in high school have fewer years to be able to make us up. They are more better position to do the online completion of courses. So that's that's good My first priority was to help ensure a seamless transition for those who are ready to graduate. That we're on track. We needed to make sure that they could do that. Without disruption and As we look at our youngest learners and particularly Oklahoma has a lot of kids with setbacks for a whole variety of regions. We have great worry about what this means academically for them. If can't regain some of this time in the summer and the idea of holding them back it's usually really not recommended. The the research and evidence does not support that as a general rule But it is something that we know there will be a great need catching up. Young learners With reading with with math skills bows those important topics that we build of. We're going to have to do extra work in an extra lift and and it may very well be that What we've just talked about earlier with this online more personalized lesson planning in and Tool it may be part of how we're able to make the most of the time when we are able to re engaged a little bit differently than where we are right now. So what does that mean for? The school calendar Mike. Move out be you know I mean I understand opening the school. Buildings is completely uncertain at this point in. I promise you I have the wildest imagination in an immune compromise child so I I am in no hurry for groups to be building together anytime But just what does this mean for the school calendar? What adjustments may be made if any so? We've made the decision for the remainder of the school year at the academic school year which ends June. Thirtieth that technically. That's the end of the year that there won't be any returning of children into buildings Now what does that look like in the next fall or what? We would call the summer which is really June for summer school. I don't know yet in terms of Summer schools is a time that with budget cuts? We have seen schools cut that opportunity. And I think we're really going to need to use some of these stimulus dollars for remediation and I certainly will be pressing. That happens in the month of June if not Late May our kids. Can't stop learning and we've we are going to need to be very vigilant to be able to get them caught backup and You know we were beginning to see some improvement and I know we can reclaim that. But we've just got to be very serious about that and and I don't think we will have any problem leaders of this and were we're going to keep that as as a high priority but this is also why feeding children maslow's hierarchy of needs met matter we. We are placing a high priority on child nutrition and on a mental health support during this time and those are into the future Learning attainment for kids in the coming months so just to be clear there the school the feeding the students. How long will that last will just will last year the academic school year or What what's schedule for that? How long will kids have access to it? Well it it can move beyond that but what we've what we want is and we've asked our districts to give assurance as not all how you do not have to see children that is a that is Something that districts do and UAE that you can't learn if you're hungry so we are putting a focus around. Let's make that a priority that will continue through the remainder of the school year which lasts until We gave them the State Board. Said we expect you to be teaching until may eighth or may fifteenth. That would kind of be a window. District's could choose within that window of their last day. If districts wanted to go further they absolutely could but for some of them. Were here. Say they want to move into the summer Summer School pretty soon after that So I think those are the plans that you will see. Continue in terms of the summer feeding program it would start in immediately so it's it's a continuous summer Continuous Feeding Program but districts have often in Oklahoma not participated in the summer and Just to give you an example right now. During the school year sixty one percent of our kids qualify in a in a receiving food during the school year but only six percents had access in the summer. And so I think this we've launched this food for thought program of getting the word out in getting our kids fed during the summer for the past three years. I want that to just roll right past. May and keep going and let's use this time as a time to really increase that permanently with more and more of our schools for shooting the need and the impact that that can make for a good start to the new school year in the fall also goes from sixty sixty one percent to six percent in the summer. Yeah so just to be. Maybe a little probably needed a untangle something. Sixty percent qualify for free and reduced price lunch. And we don't have at the tip of my tongue. The percentage of children that we serve okay. But it's going to be a lot There's many of these schools feed every child in the school building. So I don't know the number of if it's fifty percent out of the sixty one that qualify or if it's all sixty percent because it could be I JUST WANNA separate that out. In the summer that we are only reaching six percent of those who qualify. That's just stunning. And and I don't think it's because we don't know that you know food insecurity income levels are I mean. Just drop you know. Yeah Yeah and so you've got you know kids who are in homes where There is not the kind of support with enrichment or camps. Were Vacation Bible school or whatever you know you see in a middle class family happening and it's not always happening in all parts of the state during the summer and so we know that by the time a child gets to third grade just with an ordinary summer break by third grade they letsie by third or by fifth. Well I think it's by third. They have lost. Maybe it's V. They've lost two years of growth so bottom line in elementary school. Just the difference between a child in poverty in a middle class family and that student. There is a two year loss in learning before you finish elementary school. Because of summer learning slide in the loss of opportunities in some of that has a child nutrition. It can we can talk about that a little bit. So my kids have been and we've worked during the summer and so they have eight weeks camps is that. I just I just want to kind of look at the class like the classic air because you know we for those camps but then for the families where they can't send their kids to is it's enrichment camps that we send them to. I would say you know as a form of academic enrichment Does that is? Is that something that contributes to the divide between really the hasn't happened in the state. Absolutely one hundred percent it does and and this is why it is important for Oklahoma to invest in what we call wrap around services those services that happened before and after school and those after school programs there there are federal funds that assist with that but in Oklahoma. We rely mainly only on those federal funds. Many states invest in before and after type programs based on need for students who not have the kind of support of a middle class family and it is. It is evident. Then when you see. Academic outcomes are kids are not going to advance and they are losing instruction time as well when our calendar is shorter or when they don't have the support at home and so that this has been something. I have harped on for a long time. A lot of people have heard me talk about we need more time on instruction fewer days etc And there's a lot of conversation around that and and I know some great people on all sides of this issue but bottom line kids need more time on instruction over a period of days that they need longer calendars so that you have time to learn something and then the next day reinforced that instead of simply link winning a school day of precious learning time and and you kind of reach a saturation point and then the days are gone. And you have a shortened calendar. And you're out of school and now summer starts. You don't have anything to sustain over over over the period of the summer break and so we we we have things we can do right now to be deliberate about how spread learning out over the year. And how we support kids in need with before or after enrichment support and care and with we would make that investment As a state or through communities and their support of children we would see academic gains rises. Well what what kind of investment would that take by the state? 'cause I mean you know. Superintendent How much is that going to cost? You know I mean that's the first thing doesn't matter what you put up. How much is that going to cost you know kind? Of what kind of investment is that in? What's the return on investment from the State? Well so the good news is we. We've seen teachers get raises. And we've seen because of that a lot of new money and at the time I think six hundred and forty million dollars in just a two year period so that that that's great We'll see if we can hang onto some of this We'll see so. This is obviously our. Our economy is suffering right now. among nation as well. So we we understand. It's not just isolated here but in terms of a number Yeah I would say I know what we need to have teachers. We can identify who we do. Not have an an need and what that would cost what it will take to have rich. Instructional materials for students to have Where those textbooks are technology and we can identify the kinds of support. They need for advanced placement for gifted and talented or special education support. And what what most states do is they match. What the feds Yup and so we can those dollars and see. We'RE NOT. We're not matching in any place we are. We are operating on a federal grant for supporting the neediest students or the neediest schools and we have not a enable to do that. And I I if we do this in a progression of order then it was. I gotTa have the teachers and and then the next comes. We've got to have the opportunity for kids to learn. And so that's really where we find ourselves today and there's more that we have to rely on the community to give but if we're going to be a leading state in this nation we're going to have to have an investment that matches the goal and then we have to be good stewards of that investment. Those our tax dollars that we need to transparently show how those are being used and and you know there's always room for improvement But but that investment is worth it every time every time we make in child it reaps dividends for this this commute for our community in our state. So if you put a boot or we talk boy. That's all school isn't it? When we're talking about technology and so forth in this conversation but Give us a dollar figure. What if you could wave your magic wand and say okay if you can give me x amount of dollars a year for the next five years you can see how far we could move the needle and then people would want to invest more. Well I think the easiest way to make that dollar figure amount would be in a per pupil expenditure away to look at it. Compared to the investment per child compared to other states and some ways this is a moving target so it's easiest to compare based on the per pupil expenditure and we are not We are not at the lowest We have made some gains because of this investment in teachers so that translates into a per pupil amount it. I mean we're talking. I mean it just feels like so almost a futile exercise to just say we need another. Two billion are or come up with what that would look like to compete with kids in Colorado or in Pennsylvania But are I think if we look at hitting regional average? It's he and that's one way for us to hold and keep hold ground and make improvements and then we're can we get we need. What does it take to get to the national average With the per pupil investment. And I think that's how you stair step that and then you look at. How do we use those? Though investments in a way that makes sense in that community and and then we got to also look at the totality of our state. What about healthcare? What about all these? Other areas of great need strong families make strong schools and so I'm all about strengthening families. And WE WE WANT TO SUPPORT EDUCATION. And we're going to give the need Every year when we go to the legislature But we also know that strengthening families is what we also need in order to do our work in make for the best investment in education for kids. This is a little out of left. Field them based on that Are you making a case for Medicaid expansion? Oh yeah absolutely Miam- okay. I feel. I wasn't expecting that question pop into my mind during our conversation. Oh well I don't know how often you've had to visit the doctor to half slings and arrows and so forth removed over the four day school week. What you were referring to earlier you were alluding to when you were talking about Want what can folks? Who are you no matter than Hornets about that? At what are they missing that you can explain to them from your sort of thirty thousand foot view? Well I think it's difficult to really have that conversation at this time where we've got a general revenue failure and and so so many uncertainties coming our way so if we were having this conversation even four months ago or Maybe two months ago I would have had a different answer We find ourselves right back where we were when the whole thing mushroomed and it was in response to two things a general revenue failure in the middle of the year and teacher shortage so we have answered the teacher shortage. And we are working to be able to attract more people and that that is on. Its Way we're not there but we are on our way But we find ourselves again with the need to find a way to finish this year and prepare for a very tough year economically next year My my answer is is. This law has been passed Senate before four one that allowed for schools to go as few as instead of one hundred eighty as few as one sixty five and for those who are going less than that which are most of the four day school weeks. They would need to submit a plan to show that their students are not losing ground and that there are cost savings and that their students are successful. So that is actually was in the legislature. Don't know what will happen with with that right now but my focus is not so much on this bill or that there is really now just a real focus on. Let's make the most of every day we have. Let's reconnect the engage. Keep learning moving and I think then. We fight very hard for everyone to recognize that we need to shake loose some of the things that we've held tight to in the past and ask a new question. What does it take now to get our kids to be where they need to be academically? And then let's move heaven and earth to make it happen. The global pandemic pushed us all into waters. Uncharted since the nineteen eighty influence a pandemic but as Superintendent Hofmeister said we are presented with an opportunity. Not just a challenge for our schools and for thousands welcome educators and families thrust into distance learning. We're confronting our states lack of readiness to thrive in an age. Where digital connectivity is absolutely one hundred percent required to navigate? Modern Society look no further than the state's unemployment sister net shuttered in-person offices years ago forcing claimants the file and check in online when over one hundred thousand Oklahomans were forced out of work with the pandemic. Our state's online unemployment system more or less collapsed entered the pressure. Schools have had to survey their families digital access and even in Oklahoma City public schools. Hard copy packets of enrichment materials were made available for pickup for district families. Superintendent Hofmeister made it clear that she planned to lead the charge so that every Oklahoma family had access to the Internet to plan for distance learning in the future but more simply to provide state educators with tools they need to differentiate instruction for Oklahoma Students. Of course are states. Lack of digital can activity comes from ironically the consolidation of information technology infrastructure in a single state agency many years ago as a cost saving measure the resulting underfunding of that agency. Like all the others puts us where we are today unable to deal with the crises that land in our laps but in case she thinks the need for universal access to the Internet is widely accepted understood. That can't be farther from the truth. The areas of the state must impacted by attorney in budget cuts in social policies in the state legislature are coincidentally the communities with the least access to the Internet they have the lowest employment rates the highest poverty rates in ran the gamut on poor health outcomes so superintendent huff meisters pointing us to a larger truth when she says every household needs access to the Internet in twenty twenty. It's not just the kids that need the Internet for school. It's a question of equity and civil rights for school children and adults alike before we knew we'd be social distancing and in the middle of a global pandemic house speaker. Charles McCall filed a bill to create the rural broadband expansion council as a representative from rural. Atocha it seems speaker. Mccollum knew something about the needs of his communities. Another like it in the state and admirably. He was trying to do something about his. Bill passed out of the House with overwhelming support. But it seems statewide access to broadband. Didn't Jive with Governor sits on plans for digital transformation. Undersecretary David Ostro. According to reports in the Oklahoma the bipartisan and veto-proof efforts of the state legislature to make the state budget hole by transferring funds from our various rainy day reserves are being held up by the governor over differences of opinion regarding stitz personal digital transformation slush fund and absorb cast. We'll be interested to see what comes of this. Standoff and for Superintendent Hof Plans for Universal Access for Oklahoma's school kids at least for the time being my many is on the budget riders in the legislature. We WanNA thank Superintendent Hofmeister for joining us for this important discussion. Remembered next week's upper castes will drop Monday night April twentieth. In the meantime if you're interested in sponsoring absorb cast please give me Arnold Hamilton. A call at four zero five four seven eight eight seven zero zero or drop me an email at a Hamilton okay. Observer dot work. You CANNOT SUPPORT OBSERVER CASTS WITH A TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION Oklahoma Observer Democracy Foundation whose mission is to help create a better more informed Oklahoma to help keep us on the Air Observer Dot Org and Click on a donate button. Upper right side of the homepage. We also urged you to subscribe to the Oklahoma Observer now in our second year of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable we have a special digital subscription rate for ABS overcast listeners. Only a dollar ninety nine a month for the first year. That's fifty percent off the usual rate for monthly digital subscribers. Just use the coupon code. Observer CAST when checking out to get the discount ready. And finally we WANNA thank Norman's jared deck for the music learn more at Jared Dick Music Dot Com for your reminds me.

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