NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
“Education is the energy source that fuels our economy.” “Oklahoma needs good paying jobs, a well-trained work force, and more college graduates.” “We have fallen behind in revenue for education.” “The proposed 2014 income tax cut will provide a $39 refund to the middle class and a $1,700 cut to those in the top 1% income bracket.” “Cutting taxes is the wrong thing to do.” “If students do not graduate from high school, we pay for them in other ways - through welfare or to keep them in prison.”
These are a few statements from the five panelists who participated on April 9 in a League of Women Voter of OK panel discussion, connecting people in seven Oklahoma cities by closed circuit TV. The panelists encouraged legislators to visit different schools in their districts, talk to teachers and principals to get information about school needs, and then talk to experts about how to best improve our public schools. They all agreed that we urgently need more money for public education in Oklahoma.
David Blatt, OK Policy Institute, raised the issue of Oklahoma having an increase of over 30,000 students in the last few years while hiring 1,000 fewer teaches since 2008 because revenue for education has fallen. Public schools need an increase of $280 million just to bring funding to the level it was 3-4 years ago.
Yet the governor has proposed an income tax cut for 2014 which would mean a $50 million less for education (she proposed only $15 million increase for education). Following the Texas model of eliminating income taxes will only result in the same experience as Texas, laying off thousands of teachers because there is not enough money for education.
Sharon Rodine, Oklahoma Institute of Child Advocacy, pointed out that the idea of failing children who do not read at third grade level is based on a Florida law, where they spend $31 million a year for 20 weeks of daily 30-minute classes of reading remediation for children in need. This state has zero funding for remediation in reading.
Burlington School Board member, Terry Graham, pointed out that legislators, if asked if they think education is important, all agreed that it is important. But their actions do not support what they say. Burlington has had their funds cut $136,000 at the end of the year - the equivalent of salaries for four teachers. Burlington, instead, doesn’t let teachers go.
They pay them minimum salaries, even though many have a master’s degree.
Parent Dee Robinson pointed out that even after MAPS her child’s school had no money for a playground, gym or gym teacher, or cafeteria. Where did the money go?
Oklahoma appears to be trying to imitate Texas and Florida, neither of which are good models for responsible efforts to improve and support education.
Sandy Bahan and Cathy Buchwald,
Co-chairs, Norman League of Women Voters