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Per Student Spending in Oklahoma Has Dropped 23.6% Since 2008

A now-demolished school in Oklahoma, via Flickr Creative Commons

A new study shows that Oklahoma continues to have a major education funding crisis and no amount of denial by Gov. Mary Fallin's office is going to make it go away.

In its study, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that per student spending has dropped in Oklahoma by 23.6 percent since 2008. This means, adjusting for inflation, the state spends $857 less per student each year. The decline is the steepest in the nation.

The second steepest decline is in Alabama where per student funding has dropped by 17.8 percent, according to the study. The study shows that, in all, 35 states have cut per student funding since 2008.

The cut in education funding undermines the rosy picture of Oklahoma's economy and quality of life often depicted by Fallin in her reelection campaign. What we have in Oklahoma is a full-fledged crisis in which our schools simply don't have enough money to operate effectively.

A spokesperson for Fallin, a Republican, said the study "exaggerates" the cuts, according to a story on NewsOK.com, because the cuts came after all-time high funding for education before the 2008-2009 recession, which caused an immediate major budget shortfall. The spokesperson, according to the study, also said the study doesn't account for other forms of school funding from the state. Even if these points are conceded, school funding here is remarkably dismal given the state's economy and teacher salaries here are among the worst in the nation.

Fallin, who is facing an unexpectedly tight race for reelection from her Democratic opponent Joe Dorman, said she's committed to increasing funding for schools and raising teacher salaries, according to the NewsOK.com story, yet in her tenure as governor she has consistently pushed for income tax cuts and approved of major tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

It's impossible to reconcile the position of pushing to lower state revenue while adequately increasing funding for education. For that to happen, funding for some other aspect of state government, such as corrections or social services, would have to be drastically cut.

In addition, Fallin has also approved of high-stakes testing in our public schools at the same time state government is starving the educational system of funding. This is terribly unfair. I believe it's also part of a deliberate conservative strategy to ensure schools "fail" by some nebulous measure. Overall, starving schools of money while pushing for senseless high-stakes testing can only be construed as a deliberate attack on public education.

Right now, we have a teacher shortage in our state and growing class sizes in many of our schools. It's a crisis that could affect the quality of education for an entire generation of students as the years go by without a major correction in funding.

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