Not quite two months ago I penned a blog detailing my concerns over the three percent budget cuts to education resulting from the state’s declared revenue failure. We knew then that these cuts could mean an end to funding for school lunches, professional development for teachers slashed in half, and the elimination of many STEM initiatives.
Well, it seems matters are headed from bad to worse for our schools. At the start of the legislative session, Governor Fallin asked lawmakers to do all they can to protect our state’s most vital services - like educating our youth - from further cuts. Since then the budget hole has grown from $90 million to $1.3 billion, and the Senate has now decided they prefer across-the-board reductions to agency budgets.
To put this into perspective, just this week the superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools sent an email to her staff lining out the possible solutions for next year in the face of deeper cuts, which include changing to a four-day school week and ending the vital service of busing students to and from school. I don’t think I have to spell out what this could look like for many of the district’s most vulnerable students.
Our rural schools aren’t any better off. In an op-ed published late last month, Duncan Superintendent Melanie Hau put it this way: “The decisions we’re being forced to make aren’t what’s best for students and communities.”
And we heard recently from Superintendent of Vinita Public Schools Kelly Grimmett: “We're in the position now where we just have to figure out what is the least detrimental to our students, and that's a sad, sad day in education.”
Our schools have sustained the largest cuts in the nation since 2008 and trimmed all the excess they can. There is simply no room left for any reductions in funding. None.
Students are suffering, and it’s up to us to find a long-term education funding solution. That’s why we strongly support the efforts of the Oklahoma’s Children Our Future campaign to increase funding for schools and give teachers a pay raise.
This proposal, if sent to the ballot and approved by the voters of Oklahoma, would be an absolute game changer for education in our state. The dedicated revenue stream would ensure teachers receive the $5,000 pay raise they deserve and so desperately need – helping to stem the tide of the teacher shortage crisis. The measure also includes expanding access to career training for students who choose that path and lowering tuition for those looking for a four-year degree. And more!
We’ve traveled to four communities in the state with Oklahoma’s Children our Future discussing State Question 779 with voters, and I’ve been amazed by how ready Oklahomans are to do what’s right – to invest in our children! We must stand strong together to make certain our children receive the very best education possible.
Standing with you,