Education funding has yet to bounce back from the recession in many states. But nowhere is the situation more dire than in Oklahoma.
In his 17 years as a school official in Oklahoma, Robert Romines has dealt with more than his share of painful situations. In 2013, as superintendent in the town of Moore, he had to shepherd his system through the aftermath of a tornado that caused $2 billion in total damage, destroying entire neighborhoods and taking down two elementary schools. Today, he is up against a subtler but deeply corrosive attack on his schools: death by a thousand spending cuts.
No state has suffered more than Oklahoma when it comes to education funding over the past decade. As it has struggled to balance its budget in the face of declining oil revenue, spending on schools has declined further than anywhere else. Oklahoma now spends $1 billion less on K-12 education than it did a decade ago. One in five of its school districts has opted for a four-day school week; the base minimum salary for educators hasn’t been raised in nearly a decade; and emergency credentials are being awarded at a record pace to help fill teacher vacancies. Arts programs are going away. Some schools are consolidating their sports programs with other schools to save money. Funding was cut in this year’s education budget for the statewide science fair, in which students compete for awards and scholarships.
In Moore, Romines has tried to hold off as long as possible from making budget cuts that directly impact students. But in the last few years, he has had no choice.