Coalition: Oklahoma schools have 35,000 more students, $200 million less in the budget

OKLAHOMA CITY – Waving homemade signs and dancing to music, thousands of teachers across Oklahoma descended on the Oklahoma State Capitol Monday morning for a massive “rally for education” to support an increase to education funding.

The rally, which was sponsored by the Oklahoma Education Coalition, was ready to welcome up to 25,000 educators and parents at the Capitol.

According to OHP, they estimate more than 30,000 people attended today’s rally at the State Capitol.

According to the coalition, Oklahoma public schools have almost $200 million fewer  today than in 2009.

However, the number of students has grown by more than 35,000 since then.

Annetta Garlinger, a 5th-grade teacher from Duncan, said she made the drive to Oklahoma City for her students.

She said, “If we’re not going to stand up and support our students, then who’s going to?”

David Goin, the superintendent of Edmond Public Schools, said if their funding is not increased, the district is facing dire consequences in the next school year.

Goin said, “We are looking at likely substantial increases in class size, the inability to compensate our teachers as we would like to and as they deserve. So we’re really faced with what I view as a crisis.”

Goin said Edmond’s funding was drastically reduced during the recession.

However, he says they made ends meet with on federal money.

Now, that money is gone and the state funding is not keeping up with Edmond’s growth.

Goin said, “It’s kind of like emptying, or reducing your funding to a certain level and never bringing it back up, even though there are more students to serve. And that’s really what has happened.”

For example, Goin said if Edmond was funded by the state at the level they were back in the 2008-2009 school year, based on their growth of 2,700 students, they would have received $8.2 million more this year from the state.

Goin said, “So as you can see, it is a substantial, a substantial shortfall.”

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, per student funding in Oklahoma is $3,035 per student, which ranks 49th in the country.

There are approximately 678,000 students in public education across the state.

Gov. Fallin released the following statement regarding Monday’s rally:

“I support more funding for common education and I appreciate teachers, parents and students being engaged on this issue. Last year I signed into law a budget that delivered over $120 million in new education money, by far the biggest increase in resources to any area of government. This year I proposed another increase of $50 million in K-12 education funding increases, despite a $190 million budget shortfall that will lead to spending cuts at most agencies. Providing adequate funding is vital in increasing educational attainment and student performance in Oklahoma. Equally important are the careful implementation and funding of education reforms focusing on accountability in schools, child literacy, and the creation of more rigorous standards in the classroom. Give our teachers, administrators, parents and students the tools they need to succeed continues to a top priority of mine.”

Tia Carlton said, “We’re in crisis mode. It’s critical. It’s not a luxury now. It’s what must be done.”

Carlton is the president of the parent’s association at Summit Middle School.

She has helped organize buses that took parents and teachers to the rally and is hopeful their efforts make a difference.

Carlton said, “The group that will be on the Capitol steps tomorrow will be made up of every political stripe known to man. But they have a shared goal and that’s tremendous.”

Rep. Lee Denney said, “In this time when we have horrible voter apathy in America, seeing that many people come to the Capitol to petition state government is really enlightening.”

Denney is the author of House Bill 2642, which calls for a $575 million increase to the state’s education budget over the next 10 years.

Rep. Scott Inman told the crowd on the south steps of the Capitol that while the opposition may claim money doesn’t solve problems, “not having enough money can cause a lot of them too.”

Inman said education funding would be possible if the state legislature would put off tax cuts benefiting big business.

HB 2642 passed out of the House on March 12 by a vote of 94-1 and is now waiting for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Oklahoma City Public Schools Interim Superintendent Dave Lopez sent this statement on the educators rallying at the State Capitol today:

“Our students have missed a significant amount of instructional time this year due to inclement weather days, and I am not certain that the planned rally is a convincing approach to advocate for more school funding. Our teachers can use a personal business day if they wish to participate in the rally, but as a District we will not take part.”