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Originally posted April 27, 2012
Jonah Middlebrook, 10, a student at Eisenhower Elementary School, holds a sign during a rally at Edison Preparatory School in Tulsa on Thursday toprotest public education funding levels in Oklahoma. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World ... more pictures at Tulsa World
Teachers, students, parents rally in Tulsa, express outrage over school funding
BY ANDREA EGER Tulsa World Staff Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
School night or not, outrage over public school funding levels drew more than 500 concerned parents, students and teachers to a Thursday evening rally.
Leaders of two Tulsa-based parent groups, Oklahoma Kids First and 49th is Not OK, marveled at the turnout given that their grassroots organizations were founded in just the last month.
"Forty-ninth in education funding out of 51, including the District of Columbia, is not OK! Thirty-eight kids in a sixth-grade classroom is not OK!" said Marlow Perkins Sipes, co-founder of 49th is Not OK.
"If the Legislature added just $50 million into public school funding, Tulsa Public Schools would not have to get rid of 75 to 80 teacher positions, but it's not just about Tulsa or the Tulsa area - it's an Oklahoma issue. Look at what we Tulsans have done in two weeks."
Parents and teachers packed the risers in the Edison Preparatory School field house while students young and old carried their concerns on homemade posters.
Their messages included "20-1 ratio - Bring it back," referring to the small class sizes mandated by House Bill 1017, an education reform effort passed in 1990. One little girl carried a hot pink sign that read, "How can I be a fashion designer if you cut my art classes?"
Every speaker, from Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard and Central High School Principal Oliver Wallace to high school juniors Donovan Session and Misti Rain, described the impact budget shortfalls are continuing to have on class sizes, school programs and course offerings.
Rain, who attends Hale High School, said one of her art teachers is being cut and that she is disappointed that she might not get to take all of the courses she was hoping to in her senior year.
"Budget cuts won't just hurt teachers and students; it's going to destroy us," she said.
Session, a student at Memorial High School, questioned the priorities of state leaders.
"Are politics really more important than the children of Oklahoma? No," he said.
Booker T. Washington High School teacher Cindy Leonard graded French III students' papers as she listened to speaker after speaker take the podium.
Ballard said Tulsa Public Schools didn't complain as it was cutting more than $22 million from its budget over the last three years because local leaders understood that state revenues were in decline. Now that they have rebounded, he is calling on the Legislature to restore public school funding to 2007-08 levels.
"I promise in front of everyone here and all of these TV cameras that all of the money that is put back in the funding formula will go to teaching positions," he said.
John Waldron, a social studies teacher at Booker T. Washington, observed that every few years of his 13-year career have brought another economic crisis.
"We shouldn't be in one now. Revenues are up. The Legislature has the power and, I would argue, the moral responsibility to restore education funding," he said. "We have the power to make ourselves heard. Will we be heard?"
Wallace said he went to the Capitol this week to visit with lawmakers and was shocked when they told him they never hear from Tulsa-area parents.
"We will have a reduction in foreign languages, and we will have a reduction in fine arts. Do our kids deserve this?" Wallace asked. "The cuts are still coming."
Cindi Hemm, principal at Eugene Field Elementary School, said her school, which was built in the last decade, was designed to accommodate 20 children in each classroom, but today, an average of 28 are in each.
Parents were encouraged to write and call their state representatives and senators.
Gabrielle Ricketts, a parent of two students at Eisenhower International School, said "Our one message to state legislators is: We need $50 million in state aid."