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OKLAHOMA CITY – 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.
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.
Last month, the Oklahoma Education Association announced that it is 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.
OEA announced that it was tentatively planning a teacher walkout for April 2 if legislators didn’t meet those demands.
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.
Several teachers decided to share photos of damage in their classrooms as a way to illustrate the need for additional funding.
“In our building alone, the chairs are falling apart, the plastic is breaking off of them. We have classrooms that have ceiling tiles missing from rain,” Margie McElhany, McAlester English Language Arts teacher, told KXII. “Every time it rains heavy, we have classrooms that flood, and peeling paint, along with tiles missing.”
Teachers say they felt the need to walkout to push for their students.