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Conservative Policy Created State Education Funding Crisis

Note to all Oklahomans: Brace yourself. It’s only going to get worse.

The announcement Wednesday that the Oklahoma City School District is cutting 208 teaching positions because of the fiscal crisis created by conservative legislative policy and a downturn in the oil and gas industry is the beginning of the bad news not an end of it.

Cuts to schools, universities, social services and health programs are only going to get worse not better in the coming months because the state is currently in a revenue failure and faces at least a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year, which begins in July. The state’s discretionary budget in recent years has been around approximately $7 billion, one of the smallest in the nation. Even Wyoming, with a population under 600,000, has a larger discretionary state budget than Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, bankruptcies of oil and gas-related companies and industry layoffs continue unabated as energy prices remain low because of a glut of fossil fuels created by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom here and its mind-boggling and perhaps corrupt mismanagement. How difficult is it, really, to determine supply and demand? A boom always leads to a bust because of basic human greed, and Oklahoma is never prepared for a bust. Never.

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Funding Not Standards Remains Dire Issue For Oklahoma Schools

I thought I might weigh in on the typical meddling of right-wing legislators into the content of the new educational standards recently approved by the Oklahoma House and Senate.

First, those legislators who criticize the standards in non-constructive ways, such as state Sen. Josh Brecheen, the Coalgate Republican who apparently doesn’t believe in evolutionary theory, have insulted a broad swath of the Oklahoma intellectual community and, frankly, made fools of themselves in the process.

I’ll limit my criticism on Brecheen’s actions, but this is a guy who lists his occupation on his Senate profile as a “motivational speaker” and has tried to pass legislation in the past that essentially wants to undermine the scientific method in our high school science classes, an effort on his part which consistently makes national news and embarrasses the state.

Brecheen, according to a news report, said he thought the standards, which replace the Common Core standards rejected by the legislators because of dubious political reasons in 2014, were not clear enough. He wants specific books listed, according to the report. By extension, I guess we are now to embrace the preposterous idea that legislators or maybe the governor, rather than educators, should be handpicking the books our students read. Why not just assign the Bible, right?

Now that the standards have passed in the legislature, I’ll make three points that really deserve widespread acceptance here.

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A Plan For AICCM

One thing that didn’t get accomplished during the so-called Oklahoma City Renaissance was the completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum near the nation’s crossroads of Interstates 35 and 40.

The unfinished center has become a symbol of a loss of political will and even injustice perpetuated by those state politicians and legislators who stopped funding its completion in 2012.

But that could be changing. After its initial, formal conception in the state legislature some two decades ago, the AICCM is finally getting the final push of funding it needs from Oklahoma City and the Chickasaw Nation, officials recently announced.

Under the new plan, Oklahoma City and the Chickasaw Nation will partner to finish the center, which needs $65 million to complete. The money needed to finish the center will come from a state bond issue, private donations and the city itself. The Chickasaw Nation, according to news reports, has promised to fund any gap in construction costs and will also provide operating money for several years to ensure the center remains open and functioning.

The Chickasaw Nation’s involvement became the last crucial step to make the AICCM a reality.

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