Severe education funding cuts threaten Oklahoma’s economic future

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Oklahoma has made some of the deepest cuts to funding for local schools of any state in the country. Over the last five years, the state has cut per-pupil education aid for primary and secondary schools by 20 percent, or $706 per student, after adjusting for inflation. Only Arizona and Alabama have cut funding more deeply over that time frame. These funding cuts have serious consequences for educational quality and for economic growth.

Oklahoma has not funded new mandates on students and schools.

Lawmakers have passed numerous new mandates on students and schools in recent years, even as they cut funding needed to implement them. For example:

  • Oklahoma will soon require children who do not pass a reading test to be retained in the third grade. However, in 2012 the state zeroed out more than $6 million in funding meant to help students meet these new requirements. Oklahoma also eliminated $3 million in funding for Literacy First, a proven progam for reading instruction.
  • Oklahoma recently began requiring high school seniors to pass 4 out of 9 end-of-instruction tests before they can earn a diploma. But last year the state cut funding from a program that provides extra help for students struggling to pass the tests. Without a diploma, these students will be unable to attend college, join the military, or qualify for many jobs.
  • Class size limits in place since 1990 have been suspended because schools cannot afford to meet them. There is strong evidence that smaller class sizes promote student achievement—particularly in the early grades and for low-income students. But state aid funding has dropped by $224 million since 2008, even as public school enrollment increased by 31,000 students. Many schools are cutting teaching positions to cope with budget cuts. Statewide the number of students per teacher has increased from 13.7 in the 2007-08 school year to 16.0 in 2010-11. 

Education cuts put our economic future at risk.

The education funding reductions Oklahoma has made in recent years hamper economic recovery, as fewer teaching jobs mean less business for local stores and services. And businesses that contract with school districts see their bottom line jeopardized, potentially meaning private sector job cuts too. Over the longer term, by undermining education reform, the cuts make it less likely that Oklahoma can develop the highly skilled workforce needed to compete in today’s global economy. In multiple surveys, businesses in Oklahoma and nationally rank the presence of a skilled workforce as more important than state and local tax rates when considering where to create new jobs.

Tax cuts would dig the education funding hole even deeper.

Given the damaging consequences of education funding cuts, boosting the state’s lagging education aid should be an urgent priority for state policymakers. But Governor Fallin and some members of the Legislature continue to advocate for tax cuts that would make it harder to strengthen Oklahoma’s investment in local schools. Oklahoma is expected to have less revenue to pay for education and other services next year than it did in fiscal year 2008 (the year the recession hit), even though the cost of providing those services has increased significantly since then due to inflation and growing student enrollment. Cutting taxes further would take resources away from our students, public safety, and other core services.

Instead of digging a deeper hole by cutting taxes, Oklahoma should step up investment in its education system, the state’s most important economic asset.


Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

19 thoughts on “Severe education funding cuts threaten Oklahoma’s economic future

  1. Oklahoma’s legislators & governor Fallin have consistently shown that they will not do the right things to improve our state’s future. The majority of oklahoma voters are sheep being led to the Republican slaughterhouse.

  2. I believe that the number one obligation that we have as citizens is to prepare our children for the future. I believe that we have an obligation to provide for them the best education possible. I don’t believe that we are living up to that obligation.

  3. Where is my property tax going? My MAPS sales tax? What are they spending that lottery revenue on? And all those bond issues……? Someone needs to crack open the books. I smell a whole nest of rats. These Republicrats wrap themselves in the flag, talk all day about god and country, but here’s more proof they are soaking us. Oklahoma: wake up. Quit voting straight line republican and telling yourselves republicans can do no wrong.

    1. In response to your question about where did the lottery revenue went: Just like every other state that passed the lottery “in the name of the education of your children”, it was looked at the “estimate” of how much money they EXPECTED to receive and they cut the previous budget that amount because after all “the lottery is going to make it up for us and more!” But it didn’t…it never does…but they had already cut it (BTW there’s not a business in world that can succeed building their budget for the UPCOMING years based on what they EXPECT to receive in income) and they did not RE-fund education when they realized what was happening because they had already re-allocated the money elsewhere…Actually education is receiving LESS moneies budgeted by the government than we received BEFORE we approved the lottery in Oklahoma.

      1. Lottery for education? Yeah, they promised that in IL (where I live) but it just goes into the general budget … and IL funding (at least for higher ed) is dropping. I went to OU and got an excellent education there, and I hope education — K-12-onward – is a priority as OK and other states struggle with the economy. Not educating Oklahomans seems like a very short-sighted move. This is a state prosperity and economic health issue, not simply Republicans vs. Democrats (one would hope).

      2. I agree Twyla. The Lottery promises much, and delivers very little. True here, in Texas, California,etc. People like having their ears tickled and believe the Pied Piper. Republican, Democrat, Independent; they all helped vote it in. And no matter who is in office, education, teacher’s pay, will never reach a level where all are happy.I wish it was otherwise.

  4. Oklahoma funding formula has been proved to be equitable and has stood for several years but funding levels are not adequate. Other states have been successful in court challeging funding to public schools based on adequate funding levels. Hate to say that courts are the best place to settle these issues but it has happened in ever state that surrounds Oklahoma. I think “Our Kids Deserve Better”.

    1. The OEA did try to sue the legislature for adequate funding. The OK Supreme Court ruled the OEA had no standing to sue. The OEA then tried to have a constitutional amendment passed via the initiative petition route, called SQ744. It was soundly defeated when out of state interests and special interest groups intent on protecting their tax exemptions poured millions into defeating it. Now the same politicians who claimed we could not take away those exemptions, estimated at almost 6 billion a year, without hurting the economy, want to do away with them to fund removing the income tax. Education is not and never will be a priority in Oklahoma. If you have children it might behoove you to move elsewhere for their educations sake.

  5. how much sense does it make to want our students to compete on the level of China but then take all our money away that helps us buy materials and books for our students? And we elected these people!

  6. As a teacher this article makes me stomach churn, but it’s the truth. We as teachers have been struggling for several years now. The legislators have proven by the laws they have passed that our children’s education is not important. We need more resources for our children to succeed. Any teacher will tell you that we do not do our job for the money. We are underappreciated and definetly under paid, yet legislators, parents, society, etc want to blame us for not working hard enough. Something has to be changed or it’s our children who will be suffering. They deserve the very best we can give them. They are the future of our state.

  7. If money is really THE big issue, then it would seem that the public education establishment would support the idea of school vouchers. Under every voucher proposal that has been advanced, students would receive vouchers less than the per-pupil allocation for public schools. Hence, the more students who would take vouchers to attend the schools of their choice, the more money per pupil there would be left for the public schools. So the public schools should rejoice!

    But the public school establishment does not support ANY voucher proposals. nor does it support school-choice, nor does it support any other program that might introduce competition or other free-market incentives to improve the quality of the education our children receive.

    America spends more per pupil on public education than any country in the world, and we get comparatively mediocre results. Perhaps lack of funding is not be the real–or at least not the greatest–problem that public education faces.

  8. I can’t help wondering where they get their information on average teacher pay for Oklahoma. It actually doesn’t look like a bad wage does it. Of course it is not the truth. One more of the lies that the government perpetuates. A first year Oklahoma teacher starts out at $31,600 and even a 25 year veteran teacher does not make $44,000 according to the minimum state salary schedule found here Lets face it, most schools are going to pay the minimum because funding of schools in Oklahoma is obviously not a priority and the schools have to do the best they can with what they have.

    In the 6 years I have been teaching, the only increase in salary that I have received is the annual step increase. This annual increase is less than 1.2%. It doesn’t even come close to keeping up with the increase in the cost of living. In spite of that I consider what I do a worthy cause. I work very hard at my job. I want my students to have an opportunity to rise above the poverty areas they live in and go on to brighter futures.

    Still I hear all the time that the teacher is not doing enough. That it is the teachers fault that students are not achieving more. We are asked to do more and more with less and less and still we go in every day and try our best to do more and more with less and less.

    Our Oklahoma government needs to step up and follow through on it’s commitment to the public schools in their state and stop pointing the finger at someone else to try to distract the Oklahoma citizens from the real problem. The state government.

    This is the reason why teachers are leaving the state of Oklahoma in droves.

  9. Legislators,
    Please restore funding to where it was before the lottery was approved by voters. The lottery funding could have been a safety net to provide for shortfalls and not as a way to fill gaps made by the budget cuts to education that depended on money not actually there. Cutting the state’s education funding is not going to help this state emerge as one that corporations want to locate to. Our children deserve more!
    Linda Edwards

  10. First, I dont know where they get off saying the average teacher making $44,000 in oklahoma. I taught 5 years and my last year tax said i barely maid 32,000. Also, my kids mom has been teaching for 10 years. Her taxes said she barely made over 36,000. They are inflating the numbers. They need to stop and really ask teachers what they are making net and gross and will find out exactly what they are really making.
    Second, i had NO LESS than 25 students in my classroom for the last 3 years. With my last year having 31 students. Public needs to realize what reality is for teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

  11. > Randall- vouchers take money away from schools since 60-70% of that money is appropriated by the state. There have been numerous studies done that demonstrate why schools in Oklahoma can’t be funded by local revenue. Your support of vouchers and ” School Choice” are short sighted and based upon erroneous information. In addition, the US is 25th in the world in what we spend on education. Our best schools are in Mass.and Minnesota two of the most unionized states for teachers in the country and these schools are as good or better than any schools on Earth.
    You cannot run a school by the industrial model that you espouse that involves competition between what?
    Think of this, the highest ACT and SAT scores come out of Oklahoma Public Schools, not private schools. Why don’t the privates want to compete?

  12. I am a certified teacher of Secondary Sciences in the State of Oklahoma, in every subject from General Science through Physics. I taught high school Sciences for 13 years. My last year’s salary was $37,500.
    I had been a Medical Technologist for 21 years prior to going into Education. I loved teaching. My students excelled in their class work , not because I was easy on them. Quite the contrary. I pushed my students to understand the areas we studied, not just regurgitate the vocabulary. We had in-depth discussions on the material. I found was to explain the technical jargon in everyday terms. They could visualize the movement of electrons in chemical bonds, because we acted them out. They knew the difference between a speed and velocity because they had to explain a skateboard’s motion in terms of forces, speed, velocity, momentum and acceleration.
    During that 13 years, I purchased over $3,000 worth of enrichment activities out of my funds, in addition to paper, pencils and calculators for my students use. Oklahoma would rather the football team win, than students learn. I was constantly urged to pass a student so he would be eligible to play. I consistently, refused. The players had the attitude of “I’m on the team, I don’t have to do anything!” Well, they did in my classes. School isn’t about football, baseball, track, basketball or any other sport, but about preparing students to function in the real world after they graduate.
    I say, cut congress and the Govermnor’s salary, decrease the numbers of district superintendents in the state to a maximum of 5 in counties as large as Oklahoma and Tulsa, and even fewer in counties like Sequoyah, Adair, LeFlore, and other small counties. Use the monies saved to increase teachers pay. Slow down the input of things like Smartboards in the classroom. They cost a fortune and very few teachers adequately train to use them to there peak effectiveness.

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