It has been a year since I decided to run for office. After being sworn in, new legislators hit the ground running through a dizzying array of meetings, agency tours, crafting bills and learning how to walk them through the process to become law.
A year. With it, 46 new faces in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. None of us was elected without taking a stand on education funding.
So, how much progress have we made in supporting public education? Of the 2,800-plus bills filed, many are related to education. Some good, some not so good, and some — well, it is hard to tell. Most bills that made it to the House floor passed with near-unanimous bipartisan support.
Moving on from the House to the Senate are bills that help teachers repay student loans, require financial transparency for virtual charters, incorporate trauma-informed response instruction in teacher degree programs, a $1,200 teacher raise, and a 4% cost-of-living raise for retired educators. We also passed a bill allowing teachers and staff to carry firearms in our schools. I want to keep our students safe, but that one I just could not support.
What about classroom funding? I have toured every public school site in my district, each requesting classroom funding and reduced class sizes. I’ve been asked weekly — have you done anything with the funding formula? Has more money been allocated?
State law mandates that an education budget be completed by April 1. This allows school districts to plan more effectively for the coming school year. At a recent legislative panel discussion hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber, we were asked, “Should legislators be held accountable to that statute?”
The answer seems obvious, yet responses varied. Some legislators feel the deadline is too early to predict accurately a working budget. Others suggest amending the statute to reflect a later date. Amid last year’s teacher walkout, legislators met this budget requirement — only the second time since it was enacted. If we could do it under that immense pressure, we could have done it again. If lawmakers will not hold themselves accountable, how can we expect our constituents to?
We need to remember why the teachers walked out last year. The raise was already in place. The message was clear then, and it is clear today: We need more money for our students and classrooms. The teachers said it; the voters said it by selecting 46 new representatives and the vast majority of Oklahoma parents say it when they send their children to our public schools. We have the best teacher talent in the region — we know this because other states recruit heavily for them. They are thankful for the raise, but it is time to invest in our kids with relevant curriculum and support staff. Our teachers know exactly what is needed to be “top 10” in education.
They just need the funding and support to do it.
Rep. Melissa Provenzano, a Democrat, represents District 79 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She lives in Tulsa.