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School Elections and Funding

February 12, 2013

In Oklahoma today, many school districts are voting on bonds, board seats, and even consolidation. Jenks and Union are asking patrons to fund capital improvements. So are many districts in central and western Oklahoma.

School elections matter for a number of reasons. They provide for governance of school districts. Board members enact local policy and provide a voice to the legislature. Meanwhile, bond elections pay for large-scale improvements and purchases. While other states provide for building costs through the funding formula, Oklahoma leaves that choice to local communities.

During the 2010-11 school year, only 46 percent of public school funding was provided by the state. That’s down from 53 percent only four years earlier. This decline has coincided with unprecedented reforms and new mandates. This can’t be said clearly enough.

The Oklahoma Legislature continues to increase the burdens placed on public schools while providing less money with which to work.

Norman Superintendent Joe Siano – who does not have a bond election today – explained it clearly in a message to patrons yesterday:

Last week, Governor Mary Fallin delivered her annual State of State address and submitted her Executive Budget proposal to the state Legislature. I was extremely disappointed the governor proposed 0.6 percent funding increase for Oklahoma schools — even though school funding has been cut $200 million since 2008 and schools are serving 36,000 more students. For NPS, the cut has been $3.6 million since 2008, and we are serving about 1,500 additional students.

During the recession, schools couldn’t receive funding that wasn’t there. However, five years later, the Rainy Day Fund is once again robust and state revenue is projected to be about $200 million more for the year beginning July 1. Given that good news, it is very hard to understand why the governor proposed so little for Oklahoma schools.

Our elected officials often hear from school administrators, teachers and groups such as ’49th is not OK’ about what the priority should be in Oklahoma. Yet the most influential voices for them to hear are those of individual parents living in their home districts. Make sure your voices are heard. We could do so much more in NPS if our funding was returned to pre-recession levels and kept pace with enrollment growth and state and federal mandates.

The governor needs to demonstrate more support for public education by proposing a budget that we can take seriously. The legislature needs to realize that all of the reforms they want cost money and make it available. The SDE needs to prioritize Oklahoma’s students over Jeb Bush’s cronies and ensure that whatever money drips through the legislative session to them this year goes to real classrooms rather than Internet classrooms.

For these reasons – and many more – schools need strong, local support. If your district has a bond election, please vote yes. Remember that  it takes 60 percent of votes cast for the measure to pass. If you have contested board seats, please pick serious-minded candidates who understand their role in between students and the community.

Then tomorrow, we can pick up the fight with the state. They aren’t going anywhere.

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  1. Outta Here
    February 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Mary Fallin obviously does not care about school. She probably did poorly, especially in English class. That much is certain. I applaud Joe Siano and the other superintendents in the state who have a clear picture of what we need to make public education (note that I said PUBLIC, not privatized online schools) great.

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