Stop playing politics with education funding

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This year’s session is quickly coming to a close.  Education funding remains the final thing being debated before we can put together a budget to pass for the year.  It really comes down to two different ideas of what to do with education funding. 

The House and the Governor want approximately $120 million in new money to common education; however, they want to mandate that $70 million of it goes to teacher pay raises and only $50 goes to classroom funding.   On the other hand, the Senate would like to see all $120 million go into the formula and allow local schools to allocate it how they best see fit.  

After listening to many people who work in education, I agree that all the funds need to go to classroom funding.  I don't think an extra $100 per month in mandated teacher raises is going to increase the quality of education for our Oklahoma students; however, updating technology, decreasing class sizes by hiring additional teachers, and getting better resources in the classroom likely will.  I would like to see some very general guidelines on how the new money is spent though, such as ensuring there is no growth or raises given in the administration departments or directed to sports programs. I understand those things are important and necessary; however, we have to turn our focus on increasing the quality of education in Oklahoma classrooms. 

I believe we need to continue to push for an increase in teacher pay, but after the slight pay raise they received last year, I think it is important for us to focus on the students and increasing classroom funding this year.  Sadly, the mandated teacher pay raise is being pushed for political reasons at the expense of Oklahoma students.  It is important to note that by putting the entire $120 million into local schools through the formula, it would still allow for schools to give a pay raise if that is what they choose to do with it, depending on the individual needs of each school.

To reach a compromise, another idea that surfaced this week would put approximately $200 million in new money to common education and mandate that $70 million goes to teacher pay and the other $130 million goes to the classroom.  Although this may be a good alternative, we need to keep in mind there are many other core functions of government that need better funding as well, such as transportation, public safely, and healthcare.  The legislature needs to ensure that we are being fiscally responsible with Oklahoma tax dollars and not being reckless. 

It is time that we stop playing politics with education funding and actually focus on increasing the quality of education in Oklahoma by empowering local school districts to do what is best for their students.  We will see how this year’s budget turns out.  I anticipate there will be a substantial increase to common education funding, but I just hope it gets to our local schools in the right way. 

Joseph Silk is a Republican member of the Oklahoma State Senate, representing District 5. He was first elected to the chamber in 2014.

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