Coburn publicly endorses TCTC’s move away from federal funding

Coburn publicly endorses TCTC’s move away from federal funding

BARTLESVILLE — An initiative launched by the leadership of Tri County Technology Center to wean the institution off federal funding has drawn the attention and endorsement of at least one influential national lawmaker.

TCTC serves the Pawhuska school district and also operates a satellite campus in Pawhuska. Mary Mashunkashey represents Osage County on the TCTC Board of Education.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn drove four hours roundtrip from his home in Muskogee to Bartlesville on Saturday evening to publicly endorse TCTC Superintendent Lindel Fields’ plan to eliminate federal funding, and the bureaucratic strings attached to it. The Bartlesville-based career tech institution plans to replace that funding with locally raised private money through the institution’s own foundation.

Speaking before a crowd of approximately 100 at TCTC’s Foundation dinner, the fiscally conservative senator opened his remarks by citing a prime example of federal inefficiency. Coburn said the U.S. government’s support of multiple job training programs across nine different federal agencies costs an estimated a$23 billion annually. He called the federal programs “highly inefficient.”

“(The federal programs) have very poor results when you can measure them — most of the time you can’t — and are very good at one thing, employing people in the job training business, but not in giving people a life skill with which they can make a living,” said Coburn. “We published a report on that and the one thing we discovered was the tremendous value and asset of the career tech system in Oklahoma.”

Begun in 1970, just three years after Tri County Vocational School District No. 1 was established to serve Washington, Osage and Nowata counties, the Foundation initially focused its support of students enrolled in the Nursing Education program. Over 40 years, the Foundation has now evolved to serve a much larger student population. In 2012, TCTC reports that its Foundation provided assistance to 671 students. According to the school’s own statistics, 62 percent of the recipients of TCTC Foundation funding have no other form of financial assistance.

Fields told the audience that it was his and the TCTC board’s philosophical belief that the funding ties to the federal government should be cut in order to allow more local discretion. But refusing federal money comes with a price.

“When it’s all said and done, we will deny approximately $1 million a year, or about 8 percent of our operating budget,” said Fields. “It’s significant, it’s a lot of money, but we’re committed to living within our means.”

In order to fill that funding gap, TCTC has committed to growing the Foundation over the past two years. The Foundation’s stated mission is to “extend the reach of TCTC until no student is denied education due to a lack of funds.”

Coburn said that when he learned what TCTC was trying to do through its programs, he agreed with the institution’s philosophy.

“It aligns perfectly with what I think we need to do in education, in our country,” said Coburn.

So far, major sources of Foundation funding come from TCTC’s own employee giving, corporate contributions, individual and board member contributions, as well as other foundation and civic club donations. A $5 million endowment would provide a perpetual stream of income.

“As you move toward a position where you’re not reliant on the rules, regulations and complications of taking a limited amount of money from the federal government, what you’re going to experience is freedom and innovation,” Coburn told the Bartlesville audience. “You’re not going to have somebody telling you what you can’t do, you’re going to have local people who actually care about your community, care about the individuals that are exposed to what we have to offer, making the decisions that are in the best interest of those individuals.”

Coburn said he was very protective of his weekend time and that it is very rare that he would make a public appearance on a Saturday night away from his family, but he supports what TCTC is doing.

“When I get home, I’m going to send Lindel a check,” said Coburn. “I came up here tonight because I believe in what he’s doing.”