Legislators at Jenks event say education will be a priority in the next session
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Saturday, December 08, 2012
12/08/12 at 4:52 AM
JENKS - Common education will be a priority for the state Legislature in the upcoming session, and there likely will be an increase in state aid in the new budget, several state lawmakers told educators, school board members and parents Friday.
Eight lawmakers spoke and answered questions at the 21st annual Legislative Luncheon at the Jenks Public Schools Math and Science Center.
"I do think you're going to see more money. I also firmly believe that money is not the only problem with education today," said Rep. Weldon Watson, R-Tulsa.
The conversation was sparked by the mention of a new report that shows Oklahoma per-pupil funding has seen the third-highest percentage reduction in the country since 2008.
Per-pupil funding in Oklahoma has dropped 20.3 percent since 2008, exceeded only by Arizona and Alabama, according to a report by the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
According to an Oklahoma Senate Education Committee interim study, state appropriations to common education have been reduced by nearly $200 million since fiscal year 2009.
Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, who was just named incoming House majority leader, said one of his key goals when the Legislature reconvenes is to look at what can be done to increase common education funding.
But Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, warned that an increase may not be as large as needed because of other state obligations.
"In Oklahoma, we have limited income resources and unlimited demands on those resources," he said.
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, said it is time to start funding new mandates that are imposed on school districts.
"Since 2004, we did not fund what we were passing," she said.
In the past 12 months, the Legislature has imposed so many mandates that district officials say it is hard for them to keep up.
"Since 2005, we have placed a tremendous amount of extra work on your plate. We need to take a step back and not introduce a lot of new things," Ford said.
Among recent reforms are high-stakes testing, the A-F school grading system, the third-grade social promotion program and the teacher evaluation system.
"We need to continue to evaluate reforms we have made, and we need to be big enough to change it, modify it or get rid of it if it's not working," Ford said.
Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, agreed that "it is time to sit back and let the funding catch up."
Other questions concerned local control of school districts, school vouchers, overtesting, teacher shortages, ad valorem taxes, and community and parent involvement in schools.
Also in attendance were Rep. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa; Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner; and Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs.
One district official asked how area school administrators could repair their relationship with state Superintendent Janet Barresi and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
"We need to put political parties aside. We need to keep talking," McDaniel said.
Original Print Headline: Legislators say education a priority
Kim Archer 918-581-8315