OKLAHOMA CITY Saying Oklahoma's education budget isn't being used wisely, State Senator Carol Martin believes she has found areas that may be pulling funding from where the money is needed most - the teachers, the students and the schools.
"In the last eight years, we have nearly tripled the education budget from $1 billion to $2.5 billion for FY 2003. The education department received extra appropriations this year, yet our schools are suffering budget cuts, low test scores and ill-equipped facilities," said Martin. "That indicates to me that perhaps poorly managed administration costs may be eating up dollars that should be going to pay teachers, school support staff and purchase supplies for schools. It seems to me that the front lines of education - the students, the teachers and access to appropriate equipment for learning - are being sacrificed to keep the higher levels of administration functioning."
The State Superintendent's office operates on a state-appropriated budget of $21.5 million, which does not reflect federal funds or grant monies received by this state office. Martin says the budget is actually $57 million and maintains that statewide there is a duplication of services in public schools and too much administration in school districts, which is depriving teachers and students of educational funds.
"The numbers indicate to me that the money is not being distributed wisely," said Martin. "The picture continues to get bleaker. Our teachers are not receiving adequate pay, even though they have one of the most important jobs in our state. We've seen support staff positions reduced or eliminated while many teachers are being forced to buy their own school supplies for their classrooms because of the budget crunch. It's not right, but no one seems to be questioning the real reasons the money isn't there when it should be."
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results for the year 2000, only 16% of Oklahoma 4th graders were proficient in 4th grade mathematics. Test results for 1998 reflect only 30% of the 4th graders were proficient in 4th grade reading, and the Comanche legislator wants to know why.
"As a state legislator, I believe we have been diligent with our funding of education and have given our students the best opportunities, but obviously something is missing because it's not happening," said Martin. "In the eight years I have been in the Senate, we have increased the education budget by $1.5 billion. To fix the problem, we need to look at the real reasons why the dollars aren't being directed to the areas the budget intended."