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'Corporate Greed' Driving Oklahoma Education Decisions, House Democrats Say

Oklahoma House Democrats
Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) speaks at a Monday press conference at the Oklahoma Capitol, flanked by other members of the House Democratic Caucus.

Democrats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday slammed several recent education policy proposals and actions they say will have negative impacts on the state's public school students.

"Those who have no background nor experience in education are making decisions in a vacuum," said teacher-turned-lawmaker Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) during a Capitol press conference. "We've got legislators in this building openly calling for the disruption of public schools. These are our children we are talking about disrupting here."

"When we have squeezed the last dollars out of our public schools ... what will be left for the people of Oklahoma? With our public school system in ruins, we will have an intellectual desert worse than anything we saw during the Dust Bowl," said Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa), also a former teacher. "It is time to push back against corporate greed and take back local control."

The lawmakers singled out legislation that changes the state's school funding formula and student transfer rules as harmful, as well as a recent vote by the Oklahoma State Board of Education that will divert some public funding from traditional public schools to charter schools, which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister has said is likely against the law.

"The State Board of Education overstepped their authority in choosing to override how that allocation exists to date in law," said Rep. Andy Fugate (D-Del City). 

That board decision has also drawn outrage from the superintendents of the state's largest traditional public school districts, with Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist saying she plans to pursue "any and all available actions" unless the board rescinds its "unlawful" action.

In a statement commending the board, Gov. Kevin Stitt called the 4-3 vote both "lawful" and "right."

"The COVID pandemic has shown us that students learn in a variety of different ways and there is no one-size-fits-all school for every student. Public school students should not be punished for succeeding in a charter school setting. Further, existing statute makes clear that charter schools are eligible for local revenues," Stitt said.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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