By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
This is one in a series of articles in advance of the Nov. 6 election.
Economic development and education are seen by some as two sides of the same coin.
Cuts to education funding during the past few years have decimated reforms put in place two decades ago. Figures provided by the Oklahoma Policy Institute show funding through the state aid formula has been reduced by $222 million while enrollment has grown by 22,000 students.
Candidates competing for the House District 14 post in the Oklahoma Legislature see skilled and educated workers as a key to economic development. Funding education, they say, is key to creating that workforce.
Republican contender Arthur Hulbert said education, job creation and economic development go hand-in-hand. Jerry Rains, the Democratic nominee, said a quality, public education system is vital to the state and economic development.
Hulbert touts his business experience and educational background to advance his credentials as the best candidate. He said he understands “how to create jobs and the importance of individuals furthering their education and gaining new marketable skills.”
“Job creation is dependent upon an individual or business’ ability to provide a marketable product or service that there is a significant demand for and where the consumer is willing to pay more for the service or product than what it costs to provide,” said Hulbert of Fort Gibson. “Ultimately, a quality education will lead to higher-paying jobs with more benefits.”
Rains, who also has a background as a business owner, said one of the first things a business owner looks at before relocating is the local school system.
“Unfortunately, Oklahoma has ranked near the bottom in financial support for public education,” Rains said. “While teaching certification standards are high, pay scales are near the bottom for professional educators.”
Rains said money for educational programs often is “redirected to other projects,” and teachers “wind up paying out of pocket for extra supplies.”
“Teachers sometimes feel defeated by the lack of a professional working atmosphere, and many work second jobs to make ends meet,” Rains said. “Certainly, the teachers who man the classrooms should have a say in making decisions about how schools run.”
Hulbert said funding cuts to public education have resulted in larger class sizes and the loss of experienced personnel and key resources. This has come, Hulbert said, at the expense of the students.
“This funding is important as students are taught marketable trades and how to think objectively, analytically and creatively as needed to compete in the global workforce,” Hulbert said. “As a state legislator, I will oppose tax cuts that come at the expense of public education and work to prevent public funds from being used in private education.”
In addition to fully funding public education, Rains said he would push reforms that would include more technology in classrooms, improved curriculums and review mandatory tests.
“When a state’s educational health is anemic, the economy of that state becomes stagnant,” Rains said. “I believe that smart investment in education is one of the most important goals for every legislator — we need to get back to good basic education and provide solid vocational training for today’s jobs.”
Hulbert said he would lead in the development of “an idea and innovation platform that connects people with ideas to people with resources and expertise.”
Sixteen small-business incubators operate in the state, according to the Oklahoma State University Extension Service. The facilities, which former U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins launched in 1981, offer support services, financial assistance and management training for entrepreneurs.
Hulbert and Rains will square off Nov. 6 in the general election.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.