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With just weeks until the 2023 Oklahoma legislative session begins, some Republican leaders are proposing massive funding cuts to public schools.
Thursday, on the heels of an embarrassing meeting with legislators, Superintendent Ryan Walters presented a new budget to the State Board of Education. This new budget proposal reduces overall funding for public schools by nearly $60 million from the previously proposed budget, although the total proposal would reflect a $330 million increase from fiscal year 2023, according to a Tulsa World analysis.
Walters’ proposed cut includes eliminating an across-the-board pay raise for all Oklahoma public school teachers. Walters’ budget does set aside an even $100,000,000 for “student proficiency”, though he doesn’t provide a clear breakdown of how that money will be spent.
The announcement comes the day after Republican state Senator David Bullard introduced legislation to end the use of federal funds in public education. Bullard’s legislation would create a ten-year-plan to “phase out” the use of federal dollars in Oklahoma. Currently, federal funding makes up 11% of the state’s education budget. If rejected, that money would likely be distributed among other states, leaving Oklahoma with a $250,000,000 annual gap to fill.
All of this comes as Governor Stitt and Superintendent Walters push a larger agenda to reallocate funding from public schools to private schools. Both elected officials have stated they will seek legislation to ensure education dollars “follow the child”. This means, if any student moves to a private institution from a public one, all state funding will too. Because private schools in Oklahoma have looser requirements to serve students than public schools, the results could be devastating.
While many Oklahoma Republicans are aggressively pushing forward with efforts to undo public school funding, others are subtly pushing back.
Amid controversy with Walters, Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General says he will “always champion” public schools
State Attorney General Gentner Drummond spoke at the annual gathering for the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators on Wednesday. Following his speech, Drummond tweeted “It was an honor to visit with public school leaders at the OASA conference this morning. This proud product of Hominy High School will always champion public education.”
In the few weeks since taking office, Drummond has been aggressively fighting against fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer money. The Attorney General recently announced he will seek prison time for those involved in the Epic Charter Schools scandal. His predecessor, Stitt ally John O’Connor, took a notably softer approach.
Future of public schools will likely be tested in upcoming legislative session
However, as the legislative session draws near, it’s unclear whether Republican lawmakers will fight on the side of public schools. If approved, the funding cuts proposed by Walters, Stitt, Bullard and others could prove detrimental if not disastrous for schools across Oklahoma.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Supt. Ryan Walters’ public schools budget proposal reduces overall funding from the previous year. While the budget reflects an almost $60 million decrease from a previous proposal, it still represents a $330 million total increase compared to last year’s budget.