OK Teachers Running For Office Hold Q&A Session

Thursday, May 26th 2016, 11:17 pm
By: News On 6

The proposed education budget for next year has a lot of Oklahomans upset. Some local teachers are so frustrated they're running for the state legislature.

First, lawmakers said they spared education from cuts in next year's budget proposal, but the State Department of Education said that's not exactly true. It said the current proposal is nearly $6 million less than lawmakers initially budgeted for education for this year.

While some specific education budgets will see a boost in funding under the proposal for the upcoming school year - like the fund that allows teachers who chose not to take state-offered health care to get extra money instead - other budget items are seeing drastic cuts.

Education leaders said the current proposal cuts funding for things like alternative education, textbooks and instruction materials.

And, they say money allocated for the teachers' retirement fund is $670,000 less than this year.

All of the cuts have inspired some teachers to run for office, and Thursday night, many of them met in Bixby for a question and answer session.

The candidates represent districts spanning from Bixby, Broken Arrow, Glenpool, Jenks and Union. They say it's time to change the direction of Oklahoma education, and new legislators are needed to do that.

The Oklahoma Board of Education will eliminate the $33 million textbook budget, leaving it at 0, and trim public school activities like remedial and alternative education by nearly $40 million.

Senate candidate John Waldron said, "It reminds me of the old phrase ‘if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’ And if we destroy the public school system, if we break down the things that brings students together and gives them a future, we're going to be paying for it for generations to come."

Waldron is a teacher and one of the 22 House and Senate candidates who participated in the candidate Q&A session in Bixby.

"Teachers just want to teach, and the fact that all of these teachers are coming out of the classroom to enter the field of candidacy really shows that we've reached a tipping point," he said.

The candidates answered questions about teacher health care cuts, the use of vouchers to fund programs, special education and student priority.

"It's important that we use this opportunity to turn the tide for public education as much as we can, especially with so many pro-public education candidates running," said Jessica Jernegan with the Bixby Education Association.

Planned before the most recent cuts, organizers said the cuts show why new leadership is a must.

"It's getting to the point where every time we see news like that, the hits just keep coming,” Jernegan said.

The primary election is June 28 and the final vote is November 8th.