Art Lawler Staff Writer email@example.com
Legislators are about to get a visit from an anticipated 20,000 Oklahoma Education Association members and supporters.
It’ll happen March 31 at the state capitol as part of the Rally for Public Education. The long-range weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 70s as the 10:30 a.m. rally begins.
At a meeting of the Parent Legislative Action Committee held Monday night at the Pontotoc Technology Center, Steven Crawford, executive director of Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, reminded members to be prepared for any kind of weather. They are being asked to gather on the south side of the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Crawford spoke with Pontotoc County educators for about an hour and equipped members with a lot of persuasive numbers and talking points for the 31st. He then took questions from the audience of about 50-75 members before returning to Oklahoma City to continue negotiating with legislators.
What will it take to get legislators to restore funding, which the Oklahoma Education Association says has been in decline for five straight years? The amount of funding per weighted student in the state has gone down, the organization says, and it believes it has the numbers to prove it.
The rallying cry for teachers and administrators will be 678,000 students statewide. They will be pleading with legislators not to turn their backs on those children.
Crawford showed numbers supporting his argument that the average child is getting $243.60 less in state funding than five years ago.
Classroom sizes, Crawford said, have grown larger. Expectations for classroom teachers have increased and legislators, for their part, seem content for Oklahoma teachers to be the second worst-paid public education instructors in the country.
The Legislature has $199,429,221 fewer dollars to educate Oklahoma students than in 2009.
Crawford matched that up with 35,000 more students to educate than in 2009.
The war for state revenue has partly to do with the push in the Legislature for tax incentives for horizontal and deep well drilling.
PLAC says more than $300 million is at stake and could be made available for education and other core services of government, but competing interests threaten education as a top priority.
The cost of educating a student is higher than in 2009, revenues are smaller and the ability to attract what Crawford calls “the best of the best” to the teaching profession has been diminished, PLEC members say.
Crawford admits the Legislature has been financially strapped the last five years. At the same time, he said, “(Legislators) haven’t made education a priority.”
He accused too many legislators of being more concerned about building new roads and bridges than educating Oklahoma's school children.
Crawford estimated that 60 education jobs have left Pontotoc County because of reduced funding, pointing out that the estimated return on investment for every dollar was between $7 and $8.
He estimated the county had lost $3 million due to cuts and asked aloud how many new car sales is that in this county? How many house sales? How many extra teachers to shrink class sizes back to 2009 levels?
All of those potential dollars, he said, have left the county. Superintendents, he said, take the funds they receive and work out the best education they can for students in Pontotoc County.
He estimated a proposed education bill would put $575 million worth of lost education dollars back into Oklahoma schools, but even then, he added, it would take four years to get us back to the 2009 levels.
He emphasized his support for better roads and bridges. “I drive on them every day and sometimes go faster than I’m supposed to," he said. But he also emphasized the state’s future and ability to attract the best of the best are at stake.
Reach Art Lawler at firstname.lastname@example.org.