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Oklahoma educators, districts frustrated with lack of education funding in approved measure

YUKON, Okla. – Teachers across the state say they are planning to walk out of class on Monday after the legislature failed to pass a measure to restore education funding.

Over the past several years, budget cuts have negatively impacted numerous state agencies, including the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“I think it is unacceptable that we have four-day school weeks for our children. You’ve heard me say this but I have visited with major companies looking at moving jobs to our state and I’ve heard from several of them that tell me, ‘Governor, your state’s so poor you only fund schools for four days a week. How can I convince my employers, my businesses to want to come to your state when you won’t fund your schools? And I can’t find an educated, quality, skilled workforce if your people are uneducated in your state,” Gov. Fallin said in May.

In July, Oklahoma City district leaders told NewsChannel 4 that school districts across the state are being forced to come up with their own money to pay for things like text books.

Teresa Danks, a third grade teacher in Tulsa, turned to panhandling to help raise money for school supplies.

“It all adds up week after week, and month after month,” she said. “So it’s a huge need.”

Over the past two years, officials say the budget for Oklahoma City Public Schools has been cut by over $30 million.

“We canceled textbook purchases, made cuts to arts, athletics [and] instructional materials from the school budgets. It devastated our schools,” then- Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora told News 4 in August.

Despite having less money in the budget, the Oklahoma State Department of Education says that student enrollment continues to rise.

Officials say 694,816 students were enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade at the start of the school year, which is about 1,000 more than last year.

“Once again, Oklahoma schools are educating more students than ever before with few new resources,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said in December. “Funding has not kept pace with the steady rise in enrollment over the past decade, the growing diversity of Oklahoma’s student population or the decrease of trained educators entering the profession. We will continue to advocate for teacher pay raises and adequate funding levels to meet the needs of all Oklahoma schoolchildren.”

The fight for funding came to a head earlier this month when the Oklahoma Education Association put lawmakers on notice.

OEA announced that it was seeking a $10,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers over three years, a $5,000 pay raise for support professionals over three years, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees, and the restoration of funding for education and core government services.

If lawmakers didn’t meet those demands, the organization said that teachers would walk out of class beginning on April 2.

On Thursday, Gov. Fallin signed HB 1010, which calls for a $447 million tax increase to fund teacher pay raises.

The plan offers an average $6,000 pay increase for all teachers, but it starts at $5,000 for first-year teachers and is expected to gradually increase over time.

However, many educators say they are still going to walk out because lawmakers didn’t restore education funding.

“This is not just about a pay raise. We need our students taken care of. I am worried about them going hungry but I am also worried about their futures. We cannot continue to let the legislature short change our kids,” one Mid-Del teacher wrote.

“This is not about a raise for me. As both a teacher and parent in Mid-Del, I am more concerned with the complete disregard for education funding. I want my kids to get a better education,” another wrote.

Yukon Public Schools announced that while they are appreciative of the first step toward providing a pay raise, they will continue to walk out until funding is restored.

In a letter from Yukon Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth, he says that many educators are feeling uncertain “regarding the commitment to continue efforts to appropriately fund public education” after the House repealed a hotel/motel tax that would provide $50 million toward education.

“At this point in time, even with the new revenue, public education has still not recovered to the 2008 per pupil funding, while the student population has increased by 60,000 students,” the letter read.

As a result, Yukon Public Schools will be closed on April 2, April 3 and April 4 for the walkout. Beginning on Wednesday, the district will evaluate the situation and notify the public about the district’s plans for the following day.