Our state’s initials can be used to mean that something is passable or just barely good enough. But is “okay” the word that should be used to describe Oklahoma’s education system?
Oklahoma ranks 49th in the country in terms of expenditures per student.
The “49th is not OK” movement believes that this ranking is more than “not OK” – it’s shameful.
Marlow Sipes, co-founder of the movement’s website and organizer, describes the movement as a group of concerned parents who are reaching out to legislators to get education funding restored. Sipes says that she was inspired to take action during a meeting of parents and teachers at the school her children attend in Tulsa.
“I was sitting in this meeting, listening to the superintendent telling us about the budget cuts,” Sipes says. “I asked what I could do to help, and he told me that people are needed to contact their legislators.”
The group’s organizers worked together and used their various skills and talents, Sipes says, to start the entirely grassroots movement. In its short history, the “49th is not OK” movement has already held an awareness rally in Tulsa and has obtained thousands of signatures on a petition, but they are working on their own, Sipes says.
“We’d like to work in conjunction with other groups,” Sipes says, “but we are solely a group of concerned parents. We are the voters and we control who is in office.”
The group encourages parents to reach out to their legislators to restore funding. Guidelines are set to help parents contact these seemingly unapproachable elected officials, Sipes says, and the group also assists with messaging.
“Some people are intimidated by contacting legislators,” Sipes says, “but you can use a very simple message to get your point across. It is important to personalize your story, but we can help.”
Fellow concerned parent Casey Stowe, supporter of the “49th is not OK” movement, also stresses the importance of contacting politicians.
“Regardless of whether the legislature is in session, it is always important to reach out to elected officials and let them know how important education is, and that it must be funded adequately,” Stowe says.
Stowe adds that budget cuts were made during the recession.
“But now we’re undergoing a recovery,” he says. “Right now, we’re just asking that education funding is returned to pre-recession levels.”
Sipes says that simply taking 10 minutes to draft an email makes a huge difference and encourages other concerned parents to mobilize groups within their communities.
“Our goal is to go statewide,” Sipes says. “We have the largest portion of supporters in Tulsa, but we also have pockets in Edmond, Norman and Bartlesville. We want to go viral across the state by the next legislative session.”
Moving forward, Sipes says that the group wants to expand its focus.
“This legislative session is closed, but we’re not going away. Really, not even being ranked in the 40s is acceptable. Moving ahead, we not only want to see restored funding, but we want to push for both quality and results as well.”
Because, Sipes and Stowe agree, some things, such as education, need to be more than just “okay.”