TPS proposes cuts as Oklahoma education crisis continues

TPS looks to cut $20 million before the beginning of the next school year.

It is no secret that Tulsa Public Schools is struggling to find $20 million to cut out of their budget before the 2020-2021 school year. This crisis is being covered heavily by the media, and TPS is responding to questions from the community through forums, meetings and questionnaires.

These cuts are being made due to the consistent decrease in enrollment and consequential decline in state funding. TPS has taken a deep dive into its reserve funds as well, which have been on reserve for years for dire situations. $4 million was used in the last year, with $13-$17 million foreseen to be exhausted in the next.

There is a thought-provoking online survey on the Tulsa schools website that requires the surveyee to make financial cuts themselves. The goal is to cut $20 out of the budget, and each cut has a dollar amount associated with it. Eliminating transport for high school students, for instance, saves one dollar of the twenty.

The highest savings are achieved by increasing class sizes, the minimum being five dollars for the addition of three students per class. This is concerning, as the average class size currently is 20-21. While this may not seem like many in middle school or high school, in pre-K, for instance, a class of twenty students is overwhelming.

The fact is that the deeper the cuts are made in Oklahoma’s educational programs, the less likely the state is to get out of hole it creates. The de-professionalization of teachers in Oklahoma has driven many to find work out of state and others to pursue careers elsewhere. Without respecting teachers as professionals, there will be no institutional change in Oklahoma schools.

Professionalization in a broad sense is trust — trusting teachers to create proper curriculum, make important educational decisions and properly teach students on an individual basis. With the increase in emergency certified teachers (along with the ongoing flight of those with degrees to other states), there has been a subsequent decrease in faith in teachers to be capable of these professional standards.

Since the teacher walk out occurred, there has been some institutional change. Steps have been taken to improve education in Oklahoma. However, just as other forms of governmental change happen, this adjustment will be slow, and, one can hope, steady.

As for what The University of Tulsa is currently doing to help this crisis, final proceedings are on the way to re-establish accreditation for education degrees. Education accreditation is anticipated to be back on TU’s roster as of November of this year after what has been roughly a two-year process.

Accreditation at TU is incredibly important for public education in Oklahoma. As the state’s top university, it is crucial that TU shows its commitment to public education in training well-equipped teachers. The University of Tulsa should lead the state in professionalizing the role teachers and reinforcing the importance of educators.

As an education major, I have seen first hand the challenges that Tulsa Public Schools are currently facing. I have watched for weeks as second graders share coverless books during reading lessons in groups of two to three students. The crisis of funding and teacher retention requires change both from lawmakers as well as from Tulsa communities, which must work together to realize goals for the Oklahoma educational system.

Post Author: Skylar Fuser