Oklahoma education funding petition met with no challenge

Lawton_More than 234,000 Oklahomans have signed a petition to allow Oklahoma voters to decide whether the state should increase how much money it spends on each student in the state.  Educators say Oklahoma spends well below the regional and national average, and they got tired of waiting for lawmakers to help boost their funding.  Educators decided to go straight to ordinary Oklahomans.

The Oklahoma State Supreme Court said the petition is valid, and it was met with no challenge.  The Oklahoma Education Association collected nearly 100,000 more signatures than it needed, and they say they hope that's a good sign for when the issue hits the ballot.

Last year, Lawton voters said no to a bond issue that would have helped the school district bring in new technology and pay for increased transportation costs, but now there's another way the voters will get a chance to help.  This time for all Oklahoma schools.

Oklahoma spends $6,900 on every student in Oklahoma, and educators say that's well below the national average.  Education groups want the number raised to at least $8,300.  "As an educator, obviously we would like to see our teachers paid better, we would like to see our classrooms equipped better, we have some tremendous capital improvement needs across the state," said Lawton Public School Superintendent Barry Beauchamp.

President of Lawton's Professional Educators Association, Judy Runnels, was one of several people who collected signatures to put the issue of a vote to the people.  "There are classrooms that do not have textbooks for every student," she said.  "Some of them have to have desk copies only - kids can't take them home.  There are so many supplies, like smarts boards and other technology, we are lacking."

Runnels says lawmakers don't always put their money where their mouth is.  "Our legislators would tell us education is the number one priority, but then they would not vote that way," she said.  "What we find is there's tremendous influence from other entities out there that have more money to pay lobbyists, have more money to spend their time at the capitol and influence the way decisions are made than the schools have."

Representative Ann Coody, (R), of Lawton, is the new chair of the State House and Education Committee.  She says the increase would cost the state a lot more money - $850 million.  Coody says money would have to come from other departments or tax increases, which may be a difficult selling point.  The funding issue likely will be on the General Election ballot in November, 2010, unless the Governor calls for a Special Election prior to that.

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