[Oklahoma City, OK, March 24, 2016] House and Senate Democrats recently won a key victory for students by pressuring Governor Fallin to allocate state funds to alleviate Oklahoma’s school budget crisis. Governor Fallin initially opposed the measure but, following the leadership of House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, agreed to release $51 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to fund public education. While a welcome move, the amount released is less than the amount requested by the Oklahoma State Superintendent  and is a mere one-third of the revenue that will be lost annually from January’s cut to Oklahoma’s top rate of individual income tax. 
Given the funding crisis, the disastrous budgetary effects of GOP education proposals are more important than ever.
Oklahoma GOP leaders recently delayed bills relating to Education Savings Accounts, which would create a voucher system diverting state funds to private schools. Oklahoma’s teachers and students argue that there would be no accountability for any inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, and that funds would be better utilized in the under-funded public schools attended by ninety percent of Oklahoma’s students. The State Education Department estimates that Education Saving Accounts would cost the department $1.5 million and, if three percent of eligible students participate, would cost local districts $68.9 million , an astonishing sum for a program benefiting so few students. Rather than delay these wasteful proposals, Republicans should listen to Oklahoma’s teachers and students and abandon them entirely.
Following the delay of Education Savings Accounts, Republicans are now focused on their “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act,” HB2797, which would force Oklahoma’s public high schools to teach that “abortion kills a living human being and is against public policy”. As Oklahoma does not currently require any sex education in its schools, this extremist “humanity of the unborn” syllabus could be the only sex education that some Oklahoma students receive, and would waste teaching hours at a time when the possibility of a four-day school week has not been averted. Thankfully, the bill has been postponed after a fiscal impact statement prepared by Oklahoma’s Department of Education estimated that the policy would cost approximately $5 million.  The bill’s GOP senate sponsor claims that the bill can be amended to eliminate any fiscal impact, though this will obviously be impossible unless the bill is abandoned entirely.
GOP support for this new educational mandate is at odds with their recent efforts to deregulate schools with SB1187, the “School District Empowerment Act,” which would remove public schools’ obligations to have certified teachers and pay teachers the state minimum salary, while also relaxing background check requirements. The bill, which has already passed the Senate, helps Republicans avoid funding Oklahoma schools by allowing children to be taught by an untrained, uncertified or grossly underpaid teacher, placing the future of Oklahoma’s already-suffering students in further jeopardy.
As ever, Republicans face a choice between helping Oklahoma’s children, or appeasing their donors and extremist base. Ahead of the November elections, Oklahoma’s parents should watch carefully which side their GOP representatives choose.
Hofmeister asks Fallin for $56 million in supplemental funding. NewsOK.com, 4 Mar. 2016. http://newsok.com/article/5482874
Panel agress to delay income tax cut despite objections by state leaders. News Channel 4, 23 Feb. 2016. http://kfor.com/2016/02/23/panel-agrees-to-delay-income-tax-cut-despite-objections-by-state-leaders/
Oklahoma lawmakers abandon school voucher plan. NewsOK.com, 10 Mar. 2016. http://newsok.com/article/5484142
Costs may scuttle Oklahoma anti-abortion curriculum bill. CNSNews.com, 19 Mar. 2016. http://cnsnews.com/news/article/costs-may-scuttle-oklahoma-anti-abortion-curriculum-bill