Education funding down, despite increase in gaming revenue

TULSA - Music teacher Kevin Pearson loves to watch his students grow.

"You hear them singing, you know, Bach, in the hallway that's a great thing, and you would never really expect that," said Kevin Pearson, a music teacher at East Central Middle School in Tulsa Public Schools.

While Pearson loves his job, he worries about the stability of funding for education and the state's dependence on outside funds, like revenue from gaming.

The 2NEWS Investigators pored over state funding. In 2005, the state department of education started receiving funding from an Indian gaming act, at the time it was $2 million.

With more slot machines across the state, the fund has hit the jackpot, it's now at more than $112 million.

Pearson's concern is this: while the fund grew by $110 million in seven years, state funding for education is down from where it was four years ago.

"We can have all this money flowing into our schools and that's a wonderful thing and we will never turn it down, however, if that money suddenly disappears, then everything is shot to heck," said Pearson.

In other words, if casino revenue falls, so could education funding. Pearson fears the state is becoming dependent on revenue that may not be so steady.

Another concern of Pearson's is that we're using the casino money to supplement a funding shortfall.

A spokesperson from the state department of education said, "We went through the deepest recession since the great depression, so while the economy is bouncing back we still have a way to go to be back to pre-recession levels."

We took what the 2NEWS Investigators uncovered to state Senator Burrage. Based on what we showed him, he said the state is taking a gamble.

"If we did see a downfall in some of these funds, we have no where to get the money," said Senator Sean Burrage, (D)-Claremore.

Burrage wants to fix the funding shortfall. To do that, he wants to reverse planned tax cuts.

"No one likes taxes, but you've got to have taxes to run government," said Burrage.

He also wants to make education funding a priority in the next legislative session.

If there is a taxpayer concern you want the 2NEWS Investigators to look into, e-mail us at investigators@kjrh.com.

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