Broken Arrow school leaders remain optimistic amidst education stalemate
By Brittany Harlow, Contributing Writer
It all adds up: $143,000 for paper, $999,000 for school buses, $1.1 million for food. Not to mention the increasing costs of land, insurance and utilities.
Running a school district for more than 20,000 children in Broken Arrow isn’t cheap or easy.
“It’s a hard time to be in education right now,” Broken Arrow Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Natalie Eneff said. “There’s a lot that weighs on the shoulders. Especially our front lines, teachers in the classrooms every day and our support folks.”
As Oklahoma’s state education stalemate and federal grant concerns stretched into May, Broken Arrow school officials are hoping for the best.
“This is really a historic time in our state for revenue collections, because the state economy is really doing well and flourishing,” Eneff said. “And so this is an opportunity for them to do something really special and historic for public education.”
Eneff’s optimism is a different energy than what’s emanating at the Capitol, following weeks of conflict between legislative branches and political parties.
Gov. Kevin Stitt proposed an education compromise last month, consisting of $300 million to an Oklahoma Student Fund, $300 million to the current funding formula, and $200 million for an Oklahoma Parental Choice tax credit.
The House passed the Senate’s private education tax credit plan last week, but held the bill from going to the governor's desk until they supported the Oklahoma Student Fund, which funds districts based on their zip codes rather than student populations.
“We are confident we can get this done and have passed the Senate tax credit plan as a show of good will and compromise,” McCall said. “The ball is now in the Senate’s court to meet the House halfway on public education funding.”
But Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, blasted the move, accusing the House of Representatives of holding school choice hostage to prioritize rural children.
“The plan we sent them treats every student the same no matter what their zip code is,” Treat said. “Their plan with the Oklahoma Student Fund is to disproportionately give kids in certain areas more money than all others. Their plan is a ridiculous and shameful notion that segregates children.”
And it’s clear whose side Stitt is on, following the line he drew in the sand on April 26 until his legislative priorities were passed.
After vetoing a bill relating to controlled dangerous substances (SB249) and more than a dozen others, Stitt said he cannot allow another year to go by without cutting taxes and reforming education.
“Therefore, until the people of Oklahoma have a tax cut, until every teacher in the state gets the pay raise they deserve, until parents get a tax credit to send their child to the school of their choice, I am vetoing this unrelated policy and will continue to veto any and all legislation authored by Senators who have not stood with the people of Oklahoma and supported this plan,” Stitt said in his veto letters.
State Democrats have expressed their disdain for both Republican House and Senate education plans, particularly when it came to private school funding.
“Vouchers don’t create choices. This bill (HB1934) has nothing to do with choice,” Assistant House Democratic Leader Melissa Provenzano said. “This bill is not for all kids or all families. It subsidizes tuition for students already sitting in private schools.”
Eneff said anytime people talk about shifting public tax dollars to private institutions, that’s money that could be funding public schools.
“But really what we’re focused on is the plan that will affect positively all public education institutions, not just Broken Arrow,” Eneff said. “And excited about the opportunity to move the needle and move the regional per pupil funding to where it needs to be.”
Eneff said additional funds would be used to give teachers much-needed raises, and provide for additional certified support staff like counselors and security -- also greatly needed at this time.
“The intent is there,” Eneff said. “It’s just a disagreement on logistics and how that's going to happen. But I think that they all want the same end goal: for teachers to come out a winner, for public education to come out better than its current state. And so that’s what we’re optimistic about. That everyone’s intent is in the best interest of K-12.”
As for federal funding updates, Eneff said she hasn’t received word that any of their federal grant applications are at risk, despite recent concerns the Oklahoma Department of Education might miss deadlines due to unfilled positions and other funding issues under State Supt. of Education Ryan Walters’s leadership.
“Pre-covid we were receiving $6 to $7 million dollars in federal funding,” Eneff said. “Those support a lot of programs across the district. With our IDEA, our special needs, Title programs, professional development, and so that would definitely be a hardship.”