FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Democratic Leader Scott Inman
Capitol: (405) 557-7370
Legislators Must ‘Make Our Children Their Top Priority,’
House Democratic Leader Advises Rally Participants
OKLAHOMA CITY – Supporters of public education who assembled by the thousands at the State Capitol on Monday should “demand that their legislators make our children their top priority,” House Democratic Leader Scott Inman asserted.
Last year an estimated 25,000 teachers assembled at the Capitol to rally for two things in particular, the Del City Democrat related:
- Enactment of House Bill 2642, which would have guaranteed $600 million in new funding for public schools over the next decade, or $60 million per year;
- “A halt to irresponsible tax cuts that did little to improve the lives of Oklahoma’s citizens but did a great deal more to erode funding for our students.”
“That’s why you rallied” at the Capitol a year ago, Inman said. “But today you rally because your elected officials … cavalierly ignored your top two demands…”
In fact, less than 24 hours after the education rally concluded and the teachers drove back home, “before the parking lot had been swept and the port-a-potties had even been hauled away,” the state Senate Finance Committee passed a measure to cut personal and corporate income taxes by $200 million per year, Inman recalled.
Simultaneously the Legislature was coping with a $188 million budget shortfall, and funding for public education had been reduced by more than $200 million – “more than any other state in the nation,” Inman said. In addition, HB 2642 died in a House/Senate conference committee on the last day of the 2014 legislative session.
Meanwhile, enrollment in public schools has grown by 40,000 students over the past six years, to 681,000 students; Oklahoma has the third-lowest average per-pupil funding level in the nation, leading only Nevada and Utah; and Oklahoma schools are coping with about 1,000 teaching vacancies.
Instead of injecting more money into school classrooms to alleviate these problems, the Republican-dominated Legislature has introduced voucher legislation “that will only serve to divert more money away from public education instead of toward it,” Inman said.
“And just as depressingly, the way they show their support for Oklahoma teachers is by passing House Bill 1749,” which would forbid any state agency from making payroll deductions “on behalf of a state employee for membership dues in any public employee association or organization or professional organization that … collectively bargains on behalf of its membership.” That measure cleared the Legislature last week and will be sent to the governor.
Inman exhorted his audience to “seek out and find your Representatives and Senators” and “call upon our governor” to “put an end to the fiscal insanity that has plagued our school children these last five years.”
Inman acknowledged that “these are tough budget times.” The Legislature has $611 million less to spend this year than it did last year. Nevertheless, he said, supporters of public education should demand three things this year:
- The Legislature “must do more than pass another flat education budget, or worse yet, pass another budget that cuts funding for our schools.”
- Raising Oklahoma’s “dismal” teacher salaries must be a priority among state lawmakers. Oklahoma’s average annual teacher salary is the fourth-lowest in the nation, ahead of only Mississippi, Idaho and South Dakota.
- Curtail increased government mandates and high-stakes testing “that only serve to eliminate local control, not foster it.”
In response to those who ask how those proposed reforms would be financed, Inman offered three suggestions:
- “Put a halt” to the looming state income-tax cut, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016. The Oklahoma Tax Commission has calculated that the reduction will cost the state treasury $57 million in Fiscal Year 2016, $147 million in FY 2017, nearly $199 million in FY 2018, and $267 million in FY 2019. Some or all of that revenue should be devoted to education, Inman indicated.
- “Get a handle” on the billions of dollars in tax credits and exemptions “our state gives away.” Offering incentives to businesses is important, he conceded, but it’s not more important than educating children. “What have we accomplished,” he asked rhetorically, “if we entice businesses to our state but have failed to properly educate the workforce they need to fill their jobs?”
- As the State of Oklahoma “grows out of this economic hole,” the Legislature “should treat our schools just like it has treated our roads and bridges,” Inman said. Since the Legislature has pumped an extra $59.7 million into state roads and bridges each of the last two years, and is tentatively scheduled to do the same for the next two years, as well, “then we certainly can see fit to spend $60 million to improve the lives of our kids,” the father of two young girls said.
“A lack of accountability” has enabled Oklahoma’s education shortcomings to fester, Inman said. Every legislator who was responsible for the failure of HB 2642 “and for passing those irresponsible tax cuts” was re-elected last year and sent back to the Capitol.
Inman urged those participating in the rally to confront their legislators and tell them, politely but bluntly, “If you can’t find a way to make educating our children YOUR top priority, then I’ll find a way to make replacing you MINE!”
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile