Flanked by public school superintendents, Oklahoma House Democrats called on Republican legislative leaders and the governor Wednesday to increase funding for public schools.
Funding for public schools, which makes up the largest percentage of the legislatively appropriated budget, has been cut nearly 20 percent the past five years, said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. Oklahoma's cuts to public schools are the third-highest in the nation, he said.
Yet enrollment in public schools has grown by about 22,000 students in the same time period, Inman said.
“Our children need to be properly funded,” he said.
Public schools received about $2.3 billion of the $6.8 billion legislatively appropriated budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has proposed an increase of $13.5 million for the 2014 fiscal year. Inman reminded those at a Capitol news conference that state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, a Republican, told lawmakers public schools needed a $300 million increase.
Inman urged Republican legislative leaders to pull back plans to cut the state's personal income tax and put the money needed to finance the tax cut into public schools.
Fallin has proposed cutting the 5.25 percent top personal income tax rate to 5 percent, which would cost the state about $40 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, and about $120 million annually when fully implemented.
Inman said calculations show about 42 percent of Oklahoma taxpayers wouldn't see a reduction in their state personal income taxes under Fallin's proposal. Those who did would see an average savings of about $39 a year.
“While our students have larger class sizes, fewer new textbooks and fewer resources, we're giving $39 back a year to Oklahoma citizens,” he said. “We believe that if the people of Oklahoma hear that case … that they'll join with us and call on a bipartisan group of leaders to put a stop to this income tax push.
“Instead of cutting $120 million, let's put that $120 million into the common education system in Oklahoma,” Inman said.