Failures in public schools impact the workforce

The inability of Oklahoma’s public school system to produce enough competent students in basic academic subjects creates significant labor issues that worsen over time and discourage the creation of new jobs, based on data presented to lawmakers at a recent hearing.

Ben Lepak, executive director of the State Chamber Research Foundation, told members of a Joint Committee task force on pandemic relief funding that Oklahoma has thousands more jobs than it currently does. There were many job seekers, especially in fields requiring a level of education.

“We’re running out of people,” Lepak said.

In 2021, he said there were about 36,000 more job openings than people looking for work in Oklahoma.

“The areas where we have challenges and gaps in this workforce are the areas that are seeing the fastest growth in demand for these occupations,” Lepak said. “And so it’s not just a 2021 problem or a 2022 problem. It’s a problem that we’re going to continue to face as a state, and in fact it’s going to get worse if we don’t. let’s not solve.”

Of the 36,000 excess postings, 21,000 were for jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree and another 1,000 required an associate’s degree.

Oklahoma ranked 45th out of 50 states for the percentage of the working-age population with a four-year bachelor’s degree in 2022, with about 26% of workers in Oklahoma holding a degree.

But in rankings based on the share of the population with a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field, Oklahoma’s position has fallen even further.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Lepak said. “We rank 50th out of 50 states.”

Oklahoma’s poor ranking for college graduation has its roots in poor performance in its K-12 public school system.

According to state test results for the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent for which results are currently available, only 24% of Oklahoma 11th graders had science proficiency or better, while only 21 % mastered mathematics.

These low proficiency rates were little different from results produced during the pre-COVID 2018-2019 school year, when 24% of Oklahoma 11th graders were proficient or better in science and 23% in math.

While funding is often blamed for poor outcomes in public schools, state data shows that even in many public schools with significant per-student funding – some schools receiving between $15,000 and $45,000 per student – school results often remain below average.

Chad Warmington, president and CEO of the State Chamber, said labor issues are a huge concern for Oklahoma business leaders.

When the Chamber recently polled Oklahoma business leaders and asked them to name the “number one issue threatening your business in Oklahoma or the threat to your ability to grow in Oklahoma,” Warmington said one response dominated.

“It was labor,” Warmington said. “(There) wasn’t even a close second.”

He said more than 60% of business leaders cite labor as the number one issue facing their business in Oklahoma.

A lawmaker said the findings are not shocking based on information gleaned from Oklahoma’s previous and unsuccessful efforts to attract major new business investment to the state.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback about why we’re losing these deals,” said Sen. Adam Pugh, a Republican from Edmond who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “I mean, I sat in a room with Saab. They were like, ‘It’s the people. It was as simple as that. “You don’t have the people to produce a plane of six-generation high-level training for the Air Force.”

In 2019, the Saab group chose to open an aircraft manufacturing plant in Indiana rather than Oklahoma.

Indiana consistently outperforms Oklahoma in academic achievement — and experts have found that strong school choice policies played a notable role in driving those results.

The Parenting Power of the Center for Education Reform! The index ranks Indiana third in the nation, noting that up to 90% of students in that state are now eligible for at least one of Indiana’s multiple-choice options.

The index indicates that 47% of fourth graders in Indiana are proficient in math and 37% of eighth graders. The average SAT score in Indiana was 1095 out of a possible 1600, and the average ACT score was 23.1 out of a possible 36.

In contrast, the index found that a significantly lower proportion of Oklahoma students were proficient in math, with only 35% of fourth graders testing proficient compared to Indiana’s 47%. Among eighth graders, only 26% of Oklahoma students were proficient in math, compared to 37% in Indiana.

Oklahoma’s average SAT score of 1048 was also significantly lower than Indiana’s average score, as was Oklahoma’s average ACT score of 19.7.

A March 2021 report released by the University of Arkansas Department of Educational Reform—”Education Freedom and Student Achievement: Is More School Choice Associated with Higher State-Level Performance on the NAEP?”—has ranked states by school choice desirability and compared these rankings with student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, often referred to as “the national report card”.

The report ranked Indiana second out of 50 states on its Education Freedom Index, while Oklahoma was a distant second at 22nd. The report also ranked Indiana fourth in private school choice, while Oklahoma ranked 21st.

The University of Arkansas researchers found that “higher levels of educational freedom are significantly associated with higher NAEP achievement levels and higher NAEP achievement gains in all of our statistical models. “.

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