Courtesy of Tulsa Public Schools
Background: Superintendent Deborah Gist of Tulsa Public Schools is making a case for why budget reduction, school closures and consolidations make sense towards achieving equity, access, and sustainability.
Published 12/16/2019 | Reading Time 2 min 39 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, director, and executive editor
Like many Black Americans, I’m always skeptical when superintendents and school boards come shuttering and consolidating schools in Black neighborhoods. Nothing fires me up more than sitting in a school board meeting while watching people in our community plead with the district and school leaders not to close our neighborhood schools.
Black Americans, like the indigenous people of this land, have often been the victims of forced displacement.
But until I did some research, I didn’t realize the effects school size has on resources available to students. After looking at the numbers, I now understand why school consolidation–and even closing some TPS schools–is actually the right idea towards equity, access, and sustainability in the district. Really, the plan is probably our city’s best shot at practicing equity and closing academic gaps between racial groups.
Now before you start casting stones or accusing me of being a part of some larger conspiracy scheme to discontinue public schools and flood Tulsa’s educational market with charters, I’ll show you the numbers, too. Consider the size of district-run middle and high schools are in the nearby suburbs.
The average student population at each of our nearby suburban high schools is 3,424 students. None of these suburban high schools is working with less than $21 million.
Now, consider what our Tulsa Public Schools high schools are working with.
The average student population at each of our TPS high schools is 934 students, a difference of 2,490 high school student-populations in the nearby suburban schools — not including alternative high school students.
What makes this funding situation even more bizarre is that TPS has higher per-student funding than suburban schools. Tulsa Public Schools’ per-pupil expenditure is $9,303.62, while the average per-pupil expenditure at area suburban schools is $7,685.98.
So, how are Jenks, Union, Owasso, and Broken Arrow able to do more with less? They have fewer school buildings, but bigger school buildings with larger enrollment for every single school.
Bigger school buildings with higher enrollment don’t mean larger classroom sizes. Owasso High Schools’ average class size is 21 students to 1 instructor, while TPS is proposing to increase its class size to 24, when we know TPS students need smaller class sizes.
Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow, and Owasso have a collective student population of 13,697 students and only four high schools, while Tulsa has fewer students–8,410–in twice as many high schools.
That gives each suburban school a much larger pool of resources on which to draw for those programs and extracurriculars.
Courtesy of Tulsa Public Schools
I once blindly thought that TPS was just too big, but I now realize that the biggest problem our school district faces — besides a stingy state congress that won’t fund education — is we have too many school buildings. Until now, I never realized how significant the pooling of pupil dollars benefited a single school and its students, teachers, and staff.
Closing and consolidating schools is understandably hard on students, families and communities. Schools are woven into our lives. Walking home from John Burroughs Elementary in the ’80s with my mother after a day of kindergarten is one of the fondest memories I will forever cherish.
Luckily, my childhood school is not on the chopping block. However, if it were, I’d probably say close it, if it meant Tulsa could provide a better pathway to educational equity for all of its students, especially the Black and Brown ones.
So, what does consolidating and closing more TPS schools buy for our community and kids?
It means more equity: smaller classrooms, more instructional support at each bigger school to help students get on grade level, mental health professionals who can help students address ACEs, better-funded extracurricular activities in academics and athletics, more educational field trips, more support for closing academic gaps, more support to help raise ACT or SAT scores, and more community empowerment centered that larger school.
More equity is worth it for our kids.
To learn more about TPS’s budget redesign, click here.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, a digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.