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Oklahoma School Districts Pay $18,500 to Hear Private-School Educator

August 10, 2017 - 9:15am CDT

[This post has been corrected (see second paragraph) and given a new headline.]

Educator and motivational speaker Ron Clark, the founder of a highly acclaimed private school in Atlanta, spoke to 700 Oklahoma teachers and administrators on August 4 at the 2017-18 McAlester Public Schools (MPS) Back to School Kick-Off Celebration, Lacey Sudderth reports for the McAlester News-Capital.

MPS paid an $18,500 honorarium to Premiere Speakers Bureau and also provided volunteers to set up and staff the book table for “Ron Clark’s product sales.” [Update: Educators who attended the event inform me that the other 14 school districts which sent representatives shared in the cost.]

State Rep. Donnie Condit (D-McAlester), state Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester), and state Rep. Scott Inman (D-Del City), the leader of the House Democratic caucus, also spoke at the event, emphasizing the importance of funding public education and improving teacher pay.

Some might argue that 18,500 taxpayer dollars (or privately raised dollars, for that matter) could have been put to better use. After all, there’s no shortage of gifted, inspiring public school educators in Oklahoma who would have given a presentation at no cost. This would have allowed MPS to give a $100 stipend to every teacher in the district.

On the other hand, there are benefits to bringing in outside talent, especially a New York Times-bestselling author and co-founder of the Ron Clark Academy (RCA). As one can glimpse from the introductory video played at the McAlester event (see below), RCA is changing the lives of young people in Atlanta. I strongly suspect these 700 Oklahoma educators benefited from Mr. Clark’s presentation.

So hats off to MPS for realizing that no one education sector—be it public, private, or home—has all the answers. Educators can learn from one another—even from the namesake of a private school which participates in a school choice program. (Georgia, like Oklahoma, has a private-school voucher program and a private-school tax credit scholarship program. Mr. Clark’s school encourages donors to “support RCA Scholarships for students by redirecting your Georgia state taxes at no cost to you.”)