2NEWS Special Report: Private funding for public schools

From Barnsdall Schools cutting to four days a week, to the former Gore superintendent accepting a dollar monthly salary, budget cuts are forcing schools everywhere to get creative.

Now, the private sector is joining the fight.

Most recently, a $1.8 million donation was given from two anonymous donors to save the jobs of Tulsa Public School teachers. And the biggest cash gift in Jenks school history -- $1.1 million from 11 families to lower the teacher-to-student ratio.

Parents Danny and Stephanie Christner spearheaded the effort.

"Rather than run away from it and go to private schools or something like that, we felt like we could possibly come up with a solution," said Danny Christner.

Their goal is to raise $3 million to fund teacher salaries for three years. They look at it like a short-term solution that sends a message to lawmakers. "It needs to be addressed and we continue to get the message that it's not being addressed," said Stephanie Christner.

Similar sentiments prompted former Union Public Schools teacher Glenda Puett to run for a seat in the state house.

"Raising money, that's a great thing," said Puett. "(But) telling lawmakers to do their jobs. I think that's what they need to be doing."

Tulsa Classroom Teacher Association President Lynn Stockley applauds parent and private donations but wishes it could be reserved for extras.

"Bottom line, the state needs to fund public education the way it needs to be funded," said Stockley.

For Stockley, the idea of funding for basics raises concerns.

"I'm very afraid that legislators will sit back and say, 'See, if we can't give them the resources we need… they just need to go out there and pound the pavement'," said Stockley.

But when 2NEWS took the matter to the woman at the heart of it all, State Superintendent Janet Barresi, "pounding the pavement" is not out of the question to her, for parents or teachers.

"I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the grant opportunities that are available," said Barresi. "I think those are possible. That is one way we can make up that gap."

Barresi says she will not fault parents for raising money. She encourages it. While she intends to ask for more state funding, she does not believe that is the long-term solution.

"Just asking the legislature to throw money at the issue, that's not right. That's not going to solve the problem. And that's why I'm pushing legislators to have a very detailed conversation, a very targeted conversation about school funding," said Barresi.

She believes improvement begins with changing the funding framework and maximizing dollars already given.

For critics who say private donations create a district of haves and have-nots, Barresi says lower-income districts should look at other partnership opportunities.   

Those other partnerships, whether they be grants, bake sales or parent donations, may just be the start of a new normal for school districts fighting for money.

Oklahoma law requires each school district to receive the same amount of state funding. It's based on enrollment numbers.

Legally, schools can use fundraising dollars for operating costs. The only restrictions would be what the donors place on it. In the case of the Jenks parents, they set up the money through the Jenks Public Schools Foundation to make sure the money is used solely for teacher salaries.

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