Oklahoma education budget cuts end popular programs, have big impact

State funding reductions for a number of programs are expected to have a lasting impact on programs such as adult education and teacher professional development in Oklahoma.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Modified: July 3, 2011 at 8:32 am •  Published: July 3, 2011
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Damon Gardenhire, spokesman for the Education Department, said that cut equates to about $62,000 for six alternative education programs in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Professional development

A number of programs that exist to make teachers better at what they do will receive no funding in fiscal year 2012.

“I think that's huge for our state,” said Ted Gillispie, executive director of the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation. “We keep saying we want to attract the best and the brightest but then we don't support them, and by support I don't mean just the National Board bonuses. It's real demoralizing.”

Gillispie's program received about $1 million in funding every year to provide scholarships for teachers to go through the National Board Certification process. That money is gone.

The commission also administered a teacher training program known as Literacy First, which also was not funded this year, to the tune of about $3 million.

“It has had a real marked improvement on kids learning to read,” Gillispie said.

He said schools that implemented the program — a full three-year process — scored an average of eight to 15 points higher than the state average on standardized test results.

The commission will use revolving fund money to continue support for schools in the middle of the Literacy First program, but Gillispie said those funds will be depleted by 2013, and no additional schools will be able to start the program next year.

Barresi said all of those are good programs and that she regretted the necessary budget cuts.

She said she hates to lose other professional development programs, too, such as the $1.1 million cut for Great Expectations, a program geared toward improving the culture in elementary schools.

She lamented the loss of the $663,785 creativity building A+ Schools program that integrates arts into education.

Filling the gap

School districts and education programs across the state are working to fill the gap in funding through private donations, federal funds and various creative solutions.

Lori Dickinson, executive director of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said teachers in the state's largest district can still pursue National Board Certification through a scholarship fund established with the foundation by generous donations.

“I think you lose some momentum,” Dickinson said. “We have some financial support for teachers, and we will try to support as many as we can.”

She said the idea behind the $1 million endowment was that Oklahoma City could encourage more of its teachers to pursue certification if a scholarship fund were leveraged with state scholarships and the bonus incentive.

Last year, the scholarships were cut from $5,000 to $3,900 because of financial strain, and some districts elected to supplement the bonuses with their own funds to provide full compensation for their board-certified teachers.

Oklahoma City Public Schools will continue its Great Expectations initiative despite the state cuts, and a number of districts use federal money for professional development programs.

Barresi said the department is working on a number of large-scale reforms and changes that will improve education and also increase efficiency.

“We're not going to let this stop us,” she said. “We're going to continue to move forward.”

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