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Our view: Oklahoma legislature needs to quit cutting school budgets

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Mary Fallin

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin answers questions as President Barack Obama, arrives at Tinker Air Force Base, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Fallin will visit OU Friday to announce new technology jobs in Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Tyler Drabek)

When we write about Oklahoma’s disregard for education funding, we sound like a broken record: Shame on Oklahoma legislators — why aren’t they making education a priority? Why are they cutting state appropriations to public education when we’re perpetually underperforming compared to other states?

Last month, Oklahoma’s State Board of Education approved a $47 million cut to public school funding as a result of the state’s budget crisis. Some school districts are being forced to close at a time when public school enrollment is up by more than 30,000 from 2010. Others, like higher education institutions, are having to tighten their belts.

So it goes: education funding dwindles, schools slash budgets — repeat.

OU announced last week that it will have to find ways to cut $20 million from its budget. Half will come from department budget cuts while the other $10 million will come from an incentivized retirement program. The program will encourage eligible faculty and staff to retire in exchange for 75 percent of their salary. That way, the university saves money when it is able to replace senior faculty and staff with lower-paid employees and is no longer contributing toward benefits and retirement programs for those who take the plan.

Fewer faculty and staff members (especially those in small, upper-level required courses) could mean delayed graduation dates, and there’s always the concern of how decreased state funding could mean an increase in tuition and fees. Those fears aside, we don’t see a better option.

Oklahoma legislators continue to put education administrators — higher ed and otherwise —  in tougher spots.

How much more can OU and other institutions be asked to cut from their budgets? What will be cut next time Oklahoma legislators decide to neglect education funding? Who will have to come up with the next solution?

As students, we’re tired of it. Oklahoma’s teachers are tired of it. They’re not staying in Oklahoma to teach, despite OU’s efforts to keep its education graduates in-state.

So, with the 2016 legislative session kicking off this month, we’re practically begging Oklahoma lawmakers to understand: It’s short-sighted to keep pushing Oklahoma’s budget crisis on its students, and its effect is showing — hello, 48th place in the nation for education outcomes. We can’t suffocate at the bottom of the educational heap. We can’t allow education to be neglected over and over again.

We don’t know how else to say it: Education is not expendable.

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