Oklahoma’s economy has performed relatively well over the course of the Great Recession, compared to the nation as a whole. We’ve had lower unemployment numbers and decent income growth. Yet you wouldn’t know it to look at the state of school funding.
A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that per pupil spending in Oklahoma has dropped more than 20 percent since FY 2008. This was the third largest percentage decrease in the nation, behind only Arizona and Alabama. In FY 2013, Oklahoma is spending $706 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars than we did in FY 2008.
Total state appropriations for common education have fallen by $220 million since FY 2008. From 2009 to 2011, more than 4,000 jobs were lost from Oklahoma’s elementary and secondary schools, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The result is larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, and less support from librarians, counselors, special education specialists, and others.
The recession has thankfully ended and the economy is growing again, but cuts to schools have not stopped. Because schools received flat funding with increasing enrollment, spending per student declined by 1.7 percent, or $49, from FY 2012 to FY 2013.
A strong education system is essential to creating and maintaining a thriving economy. Businesses need a well-educated workforce, and education cuts undermine the state’s ability to produce workers with the skills needed to compete in a global economy. Our economy is performing well today, but if we do not recommit ourselves to adequately fund education, we put our children and our future prosperity at risk.