“Deplorable is the only word that comes to mind after yesterday’s announcement from the State Superintendent that a $47 million cut will eliminate programs in our public school systems,” said Sarah Baker, Communications Director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “While we are having debates over earthquakes, executions, and more tax breaks for billionaires, we are starving our children of a quality education. Oklahoma ranks at or near the bottom of every marker for public education. And just when you think the only way to go is up, the legislature and their irresponsible and reckless decisions have forced the elimination of funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and other ‘education initiatives,’ and slashed as much as 50-percent of teacher training programs and staff development. And although the Oklahoma Republican Party, just earlier this year, criticized SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) recipients, they have quite literally just taken food out of the mouths of children through a reduction of school lunch matching funds which address the hunger of thousands of children across Oklahoma who depend on school meals for most or all of their nutritional needs.”
In addition to the numerous cuts that students and teachers will be hit with in the middle of a school year, the prospect of closing or consolidation of entire school districts is a likely future step, sooner rather than later. Rural school districts will face hard decisions in the coming months unless the legislature and Governor decide to act. The Republican legislature fails to make public education a priority at every turn, and we expect them to act no differently this time. In some cases, larger urban school districts have minimal reserve funds to access, but those funds have been dwindling for years and with no relief in sight, could be dried up by the start of the 2016-2017 school year, only eight short months away.
Republicans have controlled the entire system in Oklahoma – from both houses of the State Legislature, to all statewide offices, all the way to the Governor’s office – for six years, and the contemptible conditions of our public schools rests squarely on their shoulders. Oklahoma Republicans have continued to show their lack of concern for Oklahoma’s children, middle class, seniors, and veterans through their quixotic legislative actions to give tax cuts in the middle of one of the worst budget failures Oklahoma has seen. No doubt the same Republican leaders, who pushed though damaging pieces of legislation over the past six years, which have led us to where we are today, will remain unrelenting for the next five months, unwilling to take responsibility for their actions.
Baker went on to say, “In an election year like 2016, candidates will be talking about how they ‘value’ public education, but we have a solid track record for a majority of the legislature that tells parents otherwise. The argument for ‘school choice’ becomes a lot easier for Republicans when they starve public schools of funds and resources, forcing parents to consider long commutes and expensive options because their State Senator or State Representative has refused to take action and properly fund schools in their own districts. This is manipulation at its finest, and Oklahoma is losing.”