April 1 — the statutory deadline for the Oklahoma Legislature to fund public schools — has come ... and almost certainly will go without the obligation being met.
It’s a largely symbolic mandate with no penalty if lawmakers miss it, which they almost always do.
We’re not in the business of making excuses for those in power, but there are still a lot of variables unresolved. For instance, we don’t know for sure how much the Texas Legislature will increase teacher pay and, at last report, Gov. Kevin Stitt was still committed to giving our teachers the highest average pay in the region.
That said, when it comes to school funding, we wish we were seeing more action from the Legislature and less talk.
When Republican leaders, including then-Sen. Scott Pruitt and then-Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, pushed through the April 1 deadline, they said it was an effective way to make sure schools remained the state’s top priority and important to help schools make rational, businesslike budget decisions.
That argument still holds.
Meanwhile, local teachers got together the other day to talk about another calendar topic: Tuesday’s anniversary of last year’s statewide teacher strike whose threat forced passage of a tax increase and a teacher pay raise averaging $6,100. It also started a political tide that pushed a lot of veteran legislators into retirement and a lot of educators into office.
There’s no strike in the offing for now; teachers are watching and waiting.
They want more than just higher teacher pay. More money for support professionals and education retirees are high on the Oklahoma Education Association’s agenda. We’ll add that the state aid formula needs more money, which would allow for reducing class sizes and returning things like music and physical education to students’ lives.
Last year’s strike changed the tenor of education funding and politics in Oklahoma. Legislators need to remember and recognize that Oklahoma’s teachers aren’t satisfied. The job isn’t done, not even close.