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Tulsa Public Schools superintendent Deborah Gist speaks at an Oct. 10 community meeting regarding the $20 million budget shortfall faced by the district. JOSEPH RUSHMORE/for Tulsa World

At the heart of the Tulsa Public Schools financial crisis is the continuing loss of thousands of students.

While all districts have suffered from a decade of staggering legislative budget cuts, TPS felt deeper wounds as families went elsewhere to educate their children. With each moving student, the per-student funding from the state leaves, too.

That erosion is seen as other districts are starting to rebound in teacher pay and classroom resources, but TPS faces cutting $20 million from its budget.

TPS student enrollment losses have escalated in the past five years while overall state public school enrollment is on the rise. It is a trend that must be reversed.

Tulsa World reporters Andrea Eger and Kyle Hinchey found that Union and Broken Arrow have been the biggest recipients of TPS students, with a combined 11,812 moving into their schools since 2013.

Epic virtual school came in third (3,736 students), but Jenks, Sand Springs and Owasso are also favored highly by TPS families looking elsewhere.

Superintendent Deborah Gist says she doesn’t know why TPS students are leaving. Her theories are the smaller TPS buildings limit program offerings and stigma regarding high percentages of students qualifying for free- and reduced-price meals.

But at this point, Gist is guessing. That needs to change.

We are glad Gist has implemented exit interviews to get a handle on the reasons behind the exodus.

As a starting point, we point to the five families interviewed for the Tulsa World story. Their reasons included a lack of discipline, unequal school-to-school offerings and not getting responses for student special needs.

TPS needs a firm understanding of why students are leaving and then it must reverse that tide. The consequences aren’t just for TPS; it impacts the economic well-being of the city.

A thriving city must offer working families thriving school options.


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