The Legislative Digest is your weekly look at the happenings of Oklahoma’s state legislature, upcoming bills and the terms to know.

Legislative Digest

This House bill would guarantee “counseling and guidance services” to all public school students and create a minimum student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1.

Counseling services are an essential part of any school. Students with these services score higher on standardized tests and are more likely to succeed later in life. Counselors also provide invaluable help to high school students through the college admissions process, a particularly complex ordeal.

To deprive children of adequate guidance services is to take away a key component of what public school aims to do in the first place. Children are less able to apply themselves and enter adult life without the guidance of a counselor. Unsurprisingly, private schools generally have more counselors per student than public schools. The advantage this brings to the private school students from wealthier families perpetuates wealth disparities.

A 250-to-1 ratio is the precise ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association. The national average student-to-counselor ratio in 2019 was 430 students to one counselor. Almost every state in the nation is well above this recommended ratio. Hopefully, this bill can be a step towards national improvement in this sorely lacking sector of public education.

This bill would put health education into the required curriculum within public schools. Health education as established in the bill includes “nutrition and exercise,” “mental health and wellness” and “coping skills for understanding and managing trauma.” These are all great topics, but there’s one glaring gap in the plan: sex education.

The status of sex education in Oklahoma is nothing short of abysmal. There is currently no legal requirement to teach any amount of sex education in schools. When sex ed is taught, abstienence from sexual activity is required to be stressed as the best route for maintaining health. This kind of sex ed has been proven to be ineffective and withholds essential life knowledge from young people.

The effects of abstinence-only education are easy to observe. In 2019, Oklahoma had the fourth highest teen birth rate in the nation. Two of the states that have higher rates, Arkansas and Louisiana, don’t require sex ed. The other, Mississippi, requires an abstinence-only program. A lack of proper sex education causes greater teen pregnancy and STI rates. Young people are going to be sexually active; you can’t shame them into abstinence. Health education’s role should be to instruct them in how to engage in sexual activity in a safe and healthy way.

This bill still presents a great benefit to students and deserves to be passed on its own right. However, if we want health classes to give students all the necessary knowledge for maintaining their wellbeing, a comprehensive unit of proper sex education must be added.

Post Author: Justin Klopfer