Study finds Oklahoma worst in the nation with decline in education funding for local schools

Mandy Shimp has her hands full, with a classroom full of five-year-old students.

"Two years ago I had 31 kindergartners in my classroom, and last year I had 26," said Shimp.

The worst part for her, "I couldn't do my job the best that I could because of the number of students," said Shimp.

This year she says she's fortunate. By chance, she has the smallest class size in the school, with 20 students. But she doesn't know what next year will bring.

Tulsa Public Schools has been down teachers for years. Since 2008, the district has cut 400 teachers. It wasn't an easy decision for the superintendent, Doctor Keith Ballard.

"When we talked about it, I just said, 'That's the way it is, that's the recession,'" said Ballard.

The 2009 fiscal year was an especially bad year for the state. It's total budget for state revenues was $6 billion dollars, that was down by more than $1.1 billion from the year before.

It's improved since. Now it's back up to $7 billion.

While the state is doing better, Dr. Ballard says the district isn't seeing those funds increase by the same level.

"What I never dreamed would happen is that when the money came back, that the state leaders would not make a commitment to education to at least replenish that," said Ballard.

A recent study by the non-partisan group, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found since 2008 Oklahoma's per-pupil spending dropped by 23%, more than any other state in the country.

"The funds need to be made up that were lost during that time," said Ballard.

Still, State Senator Gary Stanislawski says there's more to the story. He says the study didn't take into account other revenue that goes to schools, like property taxes.

"If we take into consideration all funding sources, the latest study I saw puts us about 29th in the nation," said Senator Gary Stanislawski, (R)-Tulsa.

That's not the 50th ranking we were at, but still he admits 29th isn't good enough.

The state increased education funding by $91 million last year but health insurance costs also went up for teachers, offsetting some of that increase.

Stanislawski says education made up 51% of Oklahoma's total costs last year, and the state had to pay for other expenses, like $44 million for mandated DHS improvements. He hopes next year is better.

"I foresee next year they're going to see a nice increase as well," said Stanislawski.

Mandy says she hopes that's the case so she can give her students her best.

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