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Association pushes for more school funding

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By Ashley Sims, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A new push for funding from educators may force taxpayers to decide between pupils and potholes.

The Oklahoma Education Association said $1400 is the difference between what Oklahoma spends per student and what its neighbors invest. This puts Oklahoma at 48 in U.S. rankings.

"Our boys and girls deserve to have the same type of opportunities that kids have in neighboring states," Roy Bishop, the OEA President said.

Bishop and OEA are pushing for HOPE which stands for help for Oklahoma public education.

They want a constitutional mandate to increase per-pupil spending to at least the average of the surrounding states, which would mean another $850 million.

Some lawmakers are wondering where that kind of money is going to come from.

"What agencies are you going to get that from? Mental health, wipe it out? Are we going to wipe out roads?" Representative Tad Jones said.

Some point to roads pitted with potholes and crumbling bridges as evidence of other funding priorities.

"Roads were in better shape in 1985 than they were in 2005, and that's a bad way to be," ODOT Director Gary Ridley said.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said after years of anemic funding, the agency is just now getting on track.

"Governor Henry and the legislators of the state recognized that about three or four years ago and have started to address that," Ridley said. "But it takes that long term commitment with the discipline to stay the course."

But educators said we've already gotten off course.
In 2004, schools got $1.95 billion, 38 percent of the budget. In 2005, that slipped to 37 percent, dropping again in 2006.

In 2007, education dollars rose to top $2.34 billion, but the percent of the overall budget was down to 35.

Some local teachers said that trend needs to change.

"They will not be raising taxes, they're just going to have to do a little bit of shuffling to put it back to where it's supposed to be in the first place, and that's on the kids," Larissa Thompson, a second grade teacher said.

Schools get about 35 percent of the budget while transportation only receives about four and a half percent. Some lawmakers said to maintain funding for other agencies, the only way to raise more education money is to raise taxes.

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