Advocacy work is a grind. It’s frustrating and exhilarating—often at the same time. It’s also rewarding beyond what’s able to be put into words. For the last five years the advocacy efforts of Stand for Children Oklahoma have been a mixture of frustration, exhilaration, disappointment and above all else, deeply rewarding. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to lead the incredibly talented team that we built from the ground up at Stand Oklahoma and an even greater honor to carry out the work of fighting for policies that will lead to better education outcomes for all students.
The support of our national organization, and the local funders that invested their resources in our vision, has allowed us to take courageous stands against powerful special interests to push for laws and investments that will one day change the odds for Oklahoma children. Ultimately though, it’s been the unwavering commitment and persistent action of Stand parent members using their voice and their vote that’s allowed us to lead a transformative shift in the conversation across this state about the value of educators and the importance of investing in our teachers, public schools and the students they serve.
In just five short years here, our team accomplished much. We helped elect school board members and state legislators who will continue to fight for more resources for public schools. We advocated fiercely to strengthen our state’s charter school law to ensure greater accountability. We worked to improve the third-grade reading law to make it work better for parents and educators to together, create a clear plan for struggling readers. We delivered meaningful parent engagement workshops to hundreds of parents in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Those incredibly committed parents became the lifeblood of our work—delivering testimony at school board meetings and conducting hard conversations with decision-makers that led to important policy changes at the state and local level. They executed a Hispanic voter contact program for an OKCPS Board of Education seat that increased turnout in the Hispanic community by more than 500 percent (yes, 500 percent!) over the previous school board race. They proved on this campaign when you communicate in a targeted and strategic way to the communities we serve, citizens will rise to the occasion to have their voices heard. They went door-to-door and store-to-store informing parents about the importance of Pre-K and were successful in increasing the number of students who ultimately enrolled in Pre-K in many schools across Oklahoma City.
In Tulsa, our parents met for hours to come up with important policy changes they wanted implemented within Tulsa Public Schools and then courageously presented their ideas at a school board meeting. Their efforts were successful and led to their concerns being included in the TPS “Destination Excellence” strategic plan. They designed and executed a sophisticated attendance campaign to focus on chronic absenteeism that garnered national attention and is now being replicated in school districts across the country. Their efforts in Tulsa lead to a double-digit increase in summer school attendance and increased attendance during the regular school year in schools where attendance had been on the decline for years. These efforts continue today by the district and are helping thousands of students avoid retention and ensuring more TPS students are on track to graduate on time.
While these accomplishments are incredibly important at changing the odds for children in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, we know deeper impact is needed to close the achievement gap here in our state. Despite exhaustive efforts, including filing and successfully qualifying an initiative petition for the ballot in November 2016, we’ve been unsuccessful in changing what we know is needed most right now to level the playing field for all children in our state—strategic investments that reverse a decade of brutal cuts to public schools and increasing teacher pay to address a crippling teacher shortage. Because we’ve been unable to move the needle in this area of state level policy change, our national organization has made the incredibly difficult decision to discontinue the Oklahoma affiliate prior to the start of the 2018 legislative session.
As an Oklahoman, this decision saddens me, but it’s a decision I’ve come to understand and respect. Stand for Children is an incredibly thoughtful organization with more than 20 years of success, changing the odds for students in 11 states and their natural inclination is to fight boldly to change the odds for every child who has been locked out of the American dream. But the reality is that sometimes wrenching choices must be made to redirect focus and efforts toward places where deeper impact can be made.
It’s been a priveledge to be part of such an amazing network of talented and committed individuals that make up this organization and the Stand Oklahoma staff will continue cheering for their long-term success.
I’m also confident the strategy and tactics we employed in Oklahoma and shared with our colleagues in other states, no doubt will make the work of Stand for Children stronger over the years and will lead to deeper impact across their network of states.
While this decision means Stand for Children will no longer operate an affiliate here, it doesn’t change the fact that every member of the Oklahoma team is committed to this state. We’ll join with each of you to continue to advocate for what we know is needed to reverse the wrongs that have befallen onto our students because of the inaction of this Oklahoma legislature.
We are Oklahomans and we will continue to fight alongside of you each of you until every child in Oklahoma receives the education they not only deserve, but desperately need.
We will always stand for children.