State lawmakers deserve some credit for demonstrating during this year's legislative session on some fronts a continued commitment to public education.
Legislators could have done more to bolster support for higher education, for which appropriations have been slashed by 26 percent during the past decade. And equity remains a concern as it relates to per pupil expenditures across school districts statewide.
But considering the fiscal year 2020 budget includes $157.7 million more for common education than the budget approved in 2018 — one that gave teachers an average pay raise of $6,100 — and reinstated some class size caps, we would classify this as progress. While public education appropriations still lag fiscal year 2009 funding levels, the additional money appropriated this year includes a $74.3 million increase for state aid formula funding and an average raise of $1,200 for teachers.
Another sign of lawmakers' continued support for public education was the passage of a bill that will hold virtual charter schools more accountable by mandating transparency in financial reporting requirements. The law, once it takes effect, will require them to file the same reports as brick-and-mortar schools with a few additional guidelines attached.
Defeating efforts to expand scholarship tax credits for individuals or corporations donating to private schools was another win for public education in Oklahoma. Those bills could have diverted money from public schools to pay for tuition at private schools, something Oklahoma — a state that ranks near the bottom when it comes to per-pupil expenditures — cannot afford while trying to play catch-up after a decade of cuts.
A quality public education system is vital to economic growth. It must be prioritized as the state looks toward the future and strives to become the Top 10 state Gov. Kevin Stitt envisioned during his campaign.
Lawmakers demonstrated their commitment to that vision this year. They must continue to build upon that commitment as they prepare for their 2020 legislative session.