What will happen to this state if thousands of teachers lose their jobs because of the state budget crisis? What will happen to the quality of education here in the public schools if this massive brain drain comes true?
These questions deserve more public discussion among the top Republican leadership at the state Capitol.
Oklahoma Education Department officials told a legislative subcommittee this week that a 10 percent or $244 million dollar cut is the equivalent of the salaries of 5,000 teacher salaries. That doesn’t mean 5,000 teachers will lose their job if the common education budget is cut by 10 percent because districts can cut in other areas, but it does mean there could be teacher layoffs.
So let’s say the state loses 2,500 or 1,500 or 1,000 teachers. Those are still huge numbers that would lead to larger class sizes and less one-one interactions between teachers and students. It would be devastating to students here.
The state currently faces a $1.2 billion shortfall for next fiscal year because of declining energy tax revenues and recent income tax cuts that primarily benefited the state’s wealthiest residents. Federal stimulus money will decrease the overall shortfall, but cuts will have to be made across state government.
The main GOP response to the education issue came from legislative subcommittee members that heard the depressing news this week. One Republican legislator dismissed the talk of teacher cuts as “scare tactics.” Others said schools could cut other costs.
About 85 percent of any given school district’s budget is in teacher salaries, according to education officials. Sure, districts can cut in some other areas, but how can they absorb a huge budget cut without cutting their main cost of doing business?
Oklahoma, unlike some other states, can ill afford a devastating blow to public education. The state lags behind the nation in producing college graduates, a systemic problem that will obviously not be solved by cutting teaching positions. The low number of college graduates here hampers economic development.