Lobbyists Fight For School Funding

Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 9:35 pm
By: News On 6

Oklahoma’s education budget has been slashed by $37 million, now some jobs may hang in the balance, and school leaders are pleading for relief. The News On 6’s Ashli Sims reports school leaders crunched the numbers on Monday and knocked on lawmakers doors on Tuesday to get them to fix this problem.

Lisa Ryan works part-time from home and is a full-time mom to twin first graders. John Bennett runs his own business and is a father of three. They might not sound like your typical big time lobbyists, but that's their goal.

"I just think that we have a powerful voice as parents at the capitol," said Lisa Ryan with the Jenks Legislative Action Committee.

They've been to the capitol twice in two weeks to lobby lawmakers, and now they're adding their voices to the chorus of superintendents who are demanding budget relief. Last year, lawmakers mandated a $3,000 teacher pay raise, but they didn't set aside money for an increase in benefits. And now lottery money is running short and they can't even pay for the raises themselves. Add rising health insurance premiums and school districts are left with a $37 million deficit.

"Bottom line is right now the supplement should be taking care of by the State Legislature in the amount of about $58 million,” said OSSBA President Dr. Keith Ballard. “Otherwise there will be huge cuts to schools during this year."

Huge cuts could mean teachers could be on the chopping block next.

“When you make promises and you make requirements on these school districts, but you don't give them the resources to execute these requirements, it's a bad way to do business," said Bennett member of the Jenks Legislative Action Committee.

The business of politics seems to be interfering with the search for a solution. House Democrats tried to bring a funding measure directly to the floor, but they were ruled out of order. The parents and voters say they just want them to do what's right for the kids.

"Legislators have a difficult job but they're also putting schools in a very precarious position," said Bennett.

TPS and Union are both still debating how to handle the new holes in their budgets. Jenks plans to dip into their reserves to cover it and Broken Arrow is freezing all non-payroll expenditures.