BY World's Editorials Writers
Thursday, April 12, 2012
4/12/12 at 5:13 AM
Four years of reduced state funding and a rapidly growing student population are hurting Jenks Public Schools' ability to offer younger students a quality education. Superintendent Kirby Lehman called the situation "an embarrassment."
Classes have swollen. Average class sizes now range from 24.5 students for first graders to 29.4 for fifth graders, when classes closer to 20 to 24 would be preferable.
Jenks' plight was revealed on Wednesday, the same day that it was reported that Okmulgee Public Schools, faced with another loss of more than $1 million in state funds, is planning to eliminate 16 teaching positions and close its Freshman Academy.
Jenks and Okmulgee are not alone. The same thing is going on in Tulsa Public schools and in many districts across the state.
State revenues, about a third of which go to common schools, nosedived during the recent Great Recession. But the Legislature needlessly exacerbated the situation with five years of drastic reductions in the state's personal income tax top rates. It was the Legislature's gift to public schools that will keep on giving - forever.
Oklahoma's economy is slowly and gingerly recovering from the Great Recession. Revenues are up a bit and slowly recovering. Normally that would be good news for the schools, which could expect to share in the recovery. But here in Bizarro World known as Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin and some lawmakers, unbelievably, continue to tout further drastic income tax cuts, up to and including doing away with the state income tax entirely.
There is one encouraging sign at the state Capitol: Tax-cut talk seems to have cooled somewhat. And to their credit, the Legislature's leaders - Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and House Speaker Kris Steele - all along have cautioned slow-going on further tax cuts.
Perhaps it will prove contagious and there will be an outbreak of good sense at the Capitol. We can hope so. Continuing to slash revenues while Oklahoma's schools are drying up on the vine approaches dereliction of duty.