The Pryor Times

Opinion

April 10, 2014

Walking the walk for public education

PRYOR, OK — I can’t imagine that there would be very many politicians who would say they didn’t think public education was important. I’m sure if you polled the legislature, 100 percent would say it’s a top priority. But it’s one thing to talk the talk—it’s another to walk the walk.

Oklahoma is one of the worst states in the country for education funding.  Reforms like smaller class sizes and more competitive teacher pay that were enacted 24 years ago with House Bill 1017 have been undone by budget cuts in recent years. One national study said Oklahoma cut education funding during the recession more than any other state, and we have yet to restore funding to pre-recession levels.

We demand that our schools do more to raise achievement levels in math, reading and other areas, but we don’t give them the resources they need to do it. We enact reforms that require tremendous time and funding at the local level to meet those mandates, and then change things again at the last minute.

It’s a wonder more of our educators haven’t left Oklahoma for teaching jobs in states that pay more, or left the profession altogether. It would be hard to blame them if they did—but overwhelmingly, our talented, dedicated teachers stay. They’re here because they love teaching, and they understand how important it is for our children’s future. But they need our help.

This past week, 25,000 teachers, students, parents and other education supporters came to the Capitol to ask for that help. One sign said it all—“Our kids are worth it.” It was my pleasure to visit with everyone who traveled to the Capitol from Rogers and Mayes Counties, and to stand with them at the rally.

 It was disheartening that the very next day a Senate Committee approved the House version of a bill to further cut the state income tax. But on Wednesday, the Appropriations Committee overwhelmingly approved a bill that could eventually pump $600 million new dollars into education. I’m a Senate co-author on the legislation, which was brought to the committee by Republican Senator Jim Halligan, a former president of OSU and Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. It calls for redirecting half of the yearly increase in funds that currently goes to roads and bridges to education. Transportation would still receive an increase each year, but so would education.

 Despite being approved 20 to 3, we know there is already growing opposition to this proposal by those who don’t want any change in the current “off the top” funding to transportation.  It’s likely that by the time it comes to the floor, the way the bill would generate new dollars for education will have changed—and it likely will go to a conference committee after that where more changes will be made.  I think it is critical that a solution is found and that we do something this year.

For now, let’s hope that this rally has helped show everyone at 23rd and Lincoln that they cannot continue to ignore the tremendous need for greater resources for our public schools. It’s time to walk the walk.

Thanks again for reading my “Senate Review.” If you have any questions on a legislative matter, please do not hesitate to contact my Senate office at the Capitol by calling (405) 521-5555 or writing me with your concerns at:  Senator Sean Burrage, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd. Rm. 537, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK 73105. I always enjoy hearing from my constituents and consider it an honor to be your voice in the Oklahoma State Senate. May God bless each of you.

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