The centerpiece of my education reform agenda for 2001 is a series of revolutionary block grants to local schools that are designed to encourage more learning.
Here's how the block grant system would work: My budget sets aside about $80 million for three kinds of block grants which could be spent by local schools as they see fit to meet their specific needs.
Matching grants would reward schools for shifting more dollars from high district administrative costs to the classroom. As you know, Oklahoma has had one of the highest levels of school administrative costs in the nation. Put more of those dollars into learning and schools would be rewarded with matching grants.
The second category of grants, reward grants, would recognize schools where learning indicators like student test scores were strong. Those schools meeting a wide range of criteria for what a 21st century school ought to look like would receive reward grants which they could use, among other things, to increase teacher pay.
The largest category of grants would target school improvement. These improvement grants would fund specific needs for specific schools. For example, if a school lacks a physics teacher, it could apply for an improvement grant to hire one or to connect to a fiber optic cooperative network and share a physics class with other schools.
If elementary kids are not reading well, an improvement grant could fund a summer reading academy. Improvement grants are designed to meet individual school needs.
These block grants would be designed and approved by the State Board of Education. They would give local schools the freedom to use state funds in ways that benefit their students and boost learning -- NOT in the old one size fits all format of traditional state aid to schools.
The block grant funds would be new money for schools. Traditional state aid funds would continue to flow on a per-pupil basis.
These grants make learning priority one.