, Muskogee, OK

May 1, 2013

Dems, educators push for increased school funding

Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Democratic lawmakers huddled with school superintendents, principals and students from across the state Wednesday to urge the Legislature to boost funding for public education.

Democrats in the Oklahoma House urged Republican legislative leaders to make funding for the state’s public schools the priority as negotiators from the House, Senate and Gov. Mary Fallin’s office work to craft a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn by May 31.

“It’s treated as a stepchild,” said Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha. “It’s something that we can no longer afford to neglect.”

Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said income tax cuts proposed by Republican lawmakers beginning in 2015 will reduce state revenue by $237 million a year.

“That’s money that we need to be putting into education,” Floyd said.

The Legislature has approved a measure to reduce the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent starting in January 2015. A second cut to 4.85 percent would come in 2016 if state revenues continue to rise.

Donna Campo, superintendent of Liberty Public Schools in Mounds, said the state’s public schools have absorbed millions of dollars in budget cuts in recent years and need more than $117 million in additional state funding just to maintain current levels of instruction.

Warner Superintendent David Vinson said his district’s budget has been reduced by $1.5 million over the past four years because of cuts in state spending for public education.

“We have gone backward,” he said. “We don’t want large class sizes. We want smaller class sizes.”

Democratic lawmakers criticized the Legislature’s Republican majority for not complying with legislation passed a decade ago that requires lawmakers to present a public school budget to the governor by April 1. There is no penalty for missing the deadline.

School districts face an April deadline for notifying certified teachers whether their contracts will be renewed for the following school year.