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“Little has been done” after 25,000 Oklahomans rally for education

OKLAHOMA CITY – Although 25,000 educators showed up at the state capitol last month to urge lawmakers to increase education funding, house democrats say little has been done.

House Democratic leader Scott Inman says instead of allowing house bill 2642 to add 57 million new dollars to education funding from the general fund, republican leaders are trying to take half that amount from the transportation budget.

“Which is sort of like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Inman said Wednesday at a House Democratic Caucus press conference.

Inman says republicans are also pushing to add ten additional school days to the bill, which he says costs $50 million dollars a day – essentially negating the budget increase.

“So as we try to dig out of the hole, they’re essentially adding more responsibilities,” he said, “and so at the end of the day, if it passes in that form, it may be a wash and our public schools may see virtually no benefit.”

“We need to have additional school days,” Republican Senator Jim Halligan (Dist 21), the Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said in response.

Halligan said each additional day of instruction will only cost half of Inman’s estimate.

“I understand the two-party process,” he said. “They’re supposed to criticize us, but we are doing our dead-level best to try to raise test scores in Oklahoma and increase high school graduation rates.”

The caucus also criticized Senate Bill 573, the charter school expansion measure, which one superintendent called ‘segregation.’

“You know who we’re giving a choice too? We’re giving a choice to the people that have money enough to put their kids in charter schools,” Jerry Needham, Supt. of Oktaha Public Schools, said.

Senate Education Chairman John Ford (R-Dist 29) disagreed.

“Not every charter school is great. Not every public school is great. But (charter schools) are offering a program that sometimes a child can’t get someplace else,” Ford said.

The charter school expansion bill is awaiting a hearing on the House floor.

The education funding bill is awaiting a hearing on the Senate floor.

Also Wednesday, the Senate approved a measure modifying Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act, House Bill 2625, to allow third graders to advance to fourth grade, if they pass a reading screening at any time during the year – or they can advance if recommended by a reading proficiency team.