Reason #8 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: Tired of saying “only”
Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine seven days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.
This article by Andrea Eger in the Tulsa World last night highlights the reversal of some cuts by the Tulsa Public Schools:
The Tulsa school board on Monday approved a preliminary budget that reduces previously proposed cuts by half and restores 42 of the 142 previously eliminated teacher positions.
In the spring, district leaders had identified $13 million in spending cuts in anticipation of a state funding loss of $13.5 million to $20 million. But officials dialed back the spending cuts to $6.75 million when asking the school board to approve a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017.
“The (state funding) reduction is far less than we anticipated,” said TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams. “Still, knowing the outlook for the state economy, it wouldn’t have been prudent for us to build back everything into our budget.”
Because the state Legislature did not pass a fiscal year 2017 budget until late May, school district leaders across the state planned for their new budgets and staffing levels on estimates and guesses about how much of the $1.3 billion state budget shortfall would be passed along to local schools.
Instead of reducing the number of teaching positions by 142, TPS will only have to cut 100. They’re only cutting $6.75 million out of the budget for the 2016-17 school year. Aren’t these ridiculous statements? The truth is that this is the position most Oklahoma districts find themselves in right now.
Public education funding is still lower than it was in 2010. Teachers still haven’t had raises in 10 years. Then again, it’s only ten years, right. And the funding is flat, right? That’s another word I’m tired of saying – flat. It’s lost all meaning.
We’ve all been cutting for months. Three percent here. Four percent here. A change in motor vehicle collections everywhere. The Doerflinger Kerfuffle. A cushion from the Rainy Day Fund, which was nice. Then the loss of textbook money – another hit. One last late revenue failure, just for good measure.
And now, the state finds 100 million that it forgot to allocate. Hmm. What to do?
If trends hold and Oklahoma ends the fiscal year with a $100 million budget surplus, two main scenarios have emerged for how the money would be allocated.
“If funds are available to return, Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services can return funds equally to all agencies, or the Legislature and governor can allocate funds at their discretion via a special legislative session,” OMES Director Preston Doerflinger said Monday.
Shelly Paulk, deputy budget director, said the general revenue fund surplus stands at $166.6 million through 11 months and that even assuming revenue declines in June, a surplus topping $100 million is likely.
State officials made across-the-board spending cuts of 3 percent in December and 4 percent in March because revenues weren’t keeping up with expenditures amid the oil industry decline. The surplus occurred because the March cut was apparently larger than needed.
Maybe they should hold it. After all, it’s only $100 million or so. Seriously, though, I don’t know which of these two choices is preferable. I also don’t know how either option would work.
In Scenario A – restoring funding by percentage to agencies that received a cut – the funds would just go back according to the level of the cuts. This would hit each state agency pretty equally. Still, I wonder if this would be FY 16 funding or if it would be an early supplemental allocation for FY 17. It’s FY 16 state revenue, so that kind of clouds the issue.
In Scenario B – a special session to distribute those funds – our Legislature reconvenes (after the primaries, of course) to determine which state functions have the greatest needs. This is probably what they should do. Then again, the timing of the funding is a little wonky. Let’s pretend that doesn’t matter though. It’s only a month into the new fiscal year, right? Looking at percentages, higher education had much worse cuts than just about anybody else. Would they restore funding for the agencies that took the hardest hits first?
Special sessions are pricey. In 2013 – the last time the governor called for one – taxpayers spent only $30,000 per day. As then Representative Joe Dorman said then:
Because we did not do our job the first time, we’re wasting taxpayer money, and we’re back here.
I know it’s frustrating to those making the budget that we are seeing such volatility in the factors that impact state revenue. I’m not critical about the $100 million or so that suddenly needs to be disbursed. They’re throwing darts at a moving dartboard. Besides, it’s only about 1.4% of the funds available to the Legislature to appropriate.
None of that is really the point, though. The jobs that hang in the balance, the programs that face elimination, the uncertainty that shadows all of us right now – all of it is because we love our tax cuts more than we love our students, our communities, and our infrastructure. We love the companies that receive tax credits more than the people who work for them. And that’s disgraceful.
One more thing: if you think that showing up to vote next week doesn’t matter because you’re only one vote, think again. Plenty of people will be showing up to vote against public education, and they’ll be coming one at a time, just like you. We just need our ones to outnumber theirs.