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Oklahoma to increase education funding, educators show that the increase falls short


Oklahoma educators rally at the Oklahoma Capitol to demand funding for education.

David Roberts Sunday, May 18, 2014

(Oklahoma City, OK) As nervous educators waited to hear a final verdict regarding state education funding, Oklahoma lawmakers announced on Friday that they had reached an agreement. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders presented their budget for the upcoming year which contained an overall reduction of $102 million compared to the previous fiscal year budget. The budget deal contains an increase to education funding by $80 million, a figure that fell short of the $118 million experts claimed was needed for schools to properly function and avoid closures.

“This is a responsible, realistic budget that makes tough, necessary cuts while adequately funding core government services,” said Gov. Fallin.

The education increase, described by many as modest or insufficient, comes only weeks after around 25,000 educators descended on the Capitol to demand more money for education. Frustrated educators point out that national statistics place Oklahoma in the bottom of the pack in education funding – ranking 44th of 50 in spending per student and 48th of 50 in teacher’s salary. The state remains in the bottom quarter of public schools spending using only 3.1% of state taxable revenue sources for education. As educators scramble to make it through another school year, many are forced to continue dipping into their own pockets, using already limited personal finances, to provide pupils with resources essential to their education.

Members of the National Education Association explain that to understand the significance of the $80 million increase requires putting it in the appropriate context. While both enrollment numbers and operating expenses have steadily increased since 2008, the budget for education has endured consistent cuts with a total reduction of 23% between 2008 and 2013.

Although the $80 million figure is considered a nod in the right direction, the increase fails to meet the $118 million widely claimed as necessary to prevent closing certain schools. A spokesperson for Gov. Fallin did not address what was to be expected of the schools regarding the additional $38 million that many anticipate the system will require.

Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard said he’s disappointed that, in a time of record tax revenue, the state lawmakers didn’t restore more of the millions of dollars cut from education since 2009.

“Well put it to good use,” Ballard said in reference to the funding increase, “but it is a disappointing number because it falls short of what we need.”

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