Bond Jeopardizes Schools
Class sizes are growing, fuel costs are increasing and resources are scarce. At what point do the record 641,000 school children, up 3,000 from last year, in Oklahoma Public Schools become a legislative priority?
Today, the legislature approved a $475 million bond package. It will cut future common education funding from two dedicated revenue sources.
“This is a poor way to fund our state. Passing bonds to make-up for cutting taxes is irresponsible government. Some of the things funded in the bond are pressing needs for Oklahoma, but at what cost to our schools? If the children are our future, why not protect that investment,” said Roy Bishop, Oklahoma Education Association President.
The bond included $300 million for roads and bridges, $100 million for higher education, $25 million for a Tulsa river project, $25 million for dams and $25 million for a Native American cultural center.
More than $30 million annually is expected to come from the general revenue fund to pay back the bond debt, devastating already cash-strapped state agencies.
Schools stand to lose even more funding. Money from Motor Vehicle Fees and Taxes will also be used to increase funding at the expense of schools. In addition, the proposal removes a trigger which required state revenue growth before additional funds were earmarked for roads. This proposal guarantees that schools will have less money available for appropriations in the future.
According to state statute Title 47, the intent of the legislature is that motor vehicle fees and taxes be used for general government functions of the state, counties, municipalities and schools. Now schools will be put on the back burner so mandated road programs can be funded.
“Chambers, realtors and businesses always make the point that a good education system is what will attract people to our state. Funding education will grow our economy,” said Mark Bledsoe, United Suburban Schools Association Executive Director.
With early predictions estimating a multi-million dollar budget shortfall for next year, education leaders said their fiscal situation is grim.
“Our school districts are already downsizing. In addition to rising fuel costs straining our budget, we are not hiring first-year teachers back, our class sizes are getting bigger and we have to cut essential electives,” said Randall Raburn, executive director of Cooperative Council of School Administration.