Education advocates call on lawmakers to fund education first

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Fund education first. That’s the message many parents and educators delivered to legislators Monday.

They’re asking lawmakers to obey a law on the books and have an education budget by the first of next month.

Education advocates said schools districts need to know early on how much money they’re getting from the state so they can make critical decisions for the next school year, like how many teachers they’ll be able to hire and if any classes will need to be cut.

They said they’re tired of it all coming down to the wire every year and they’re asking legislators to act now.

“I’m a teacher in Putnam City schools, and we’re just asking our lawmakers to follow the law and fund education first,” said Tony Flores, as he passed out calendars to lawmakers at the capitol Monday to remind them of the upcoming deadline.

Flores is a music teacher at Wiley Post elementary in the Putnam City school district.

He said, when his district doesn’t know early on how much money they’ll be getting from the state, it creates anxiety for him.

“Always, the first cuts are the arts, and so it’s nerve-wracking to know that I might not have a job if cuts continue,” Flores said.

“Why don’t you follow the law? You passed the law. Follow the law,” said Amber England, executive director of Stand for Children Oklahoma, at a press conference at the capitol Monday morning.

Education advocates gathered to ask lawmakers to follow House Bill 1247, signed into law in 2003, that said education must be funded by April 1.

“Follow the law. Fund education by April 1 so we can see the budget and see what the consequences are going to be of this budget,” England said.

That April deadline has only been met once since the law went into effect.

“It’s like they passed a law and just said who cares? Well, everyone here cares,” England said.

And, England said the teacher pay raise bill that passed out of the house last week is worthless if there’s no funding attached to it.

“There’s not really a pathway by which a meaningful pay raise can be done this session if there aren’t some fairly significant reforms to wind subsidies,” said Dave Bond, CEO of OCPA Impact, an advocacy organization that has promoted finding a teacher pay raise without raising taxes.

Just last week, the house approved legislation to roll back the state’s tax credit for wind energy companies.

It’s just one possibility of finding more money for education.

Flores hopes lawmakers get the education budget done soon so he can have some assurance he’ll still have a job next year.

Rep. Leslie Osborn, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee said they’ll have a better idea of when that education budget could become a reality after a leadership meeting this week.

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