COVID-19 in Tulsa

Cambry Shields, Chromebook support for Owasso High School, sits in the parking lot of the west campus on the first day of statewide distance learning. Shields was helping students change passwords and providing other technical support, and needed to be on the school's network. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

The Tulsa and Oklahoma City school district superintendents see disaster looming and are asking the federal government to intervene.

The Council of Great City Schools, which represents the nation’s largest public districts, sent a letter to Congress seeking to be included in the next coronavirus supplemental funding bill. It warned of an “educational catastrophe” that could lead to 275,000 teacher layoffs.

U.S. public schools are largely funded by state and local revenue. The COVID-19 pandemic choked those revenue sources as the spreading virus shut down businesses. Some districts anticipate at least 25% less funding.

In Oklahoma, plummeting oil prices creates a double-whammy on funding.

Tulsa Public Schools receives about 52% of its budget from state funds, used for teacher and staff pay, and about 30% of its income derives from local property taxes. Other funding comes from federal and philanthropic sources, which is typically earmarked for specific programs. Before the pandemic, TPS went through a painful process of cutting $20 million from its budget after the state could not catch up from a decade of education cuts.

Recent state revenue reports have put all agencies on notice that more budget cuts are coming. The longer the people in Oklahoma City wait to pull the trigger, the deeper the cuts will be.

The Council of Great City Schools is asking Congress for $175 billion in stabilization funds distributed through the Title I program, which supports schools with concentrations of children living in poverty. It also seeks an additional $13 billion for special education through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, $12 billion more for Title 1 schools, $2 billion for the E-Rate program for discounted internet services and emergency infrastructure funds.

Congress needs to act on these requests. These are reasonable and specific to programs for students most in need of support.

Oklahoma is set to receive a total of $200 million in emergency education funding, and Gov. Kevin Stitt wants to use $40 million of it for what amounts to private school vouchers and expanding Advanced Placement classes in rural areas.

We disagree; that won’t put out the fire threatening to consume our classrooms.

Superintendents have sounded the warning bell, and Congress needs to respond.


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