Funding for education has dominated forums held by Senator Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman. The forums provide classroom teachers an opportunity to ask questions about the current revenue shortfall. Nichols has held the forums in Blanchard, Norman and Washington schools.
To keep the budget crisis from further hurting the classroom, Nichols believes the legislature should fund education first. "We should fund education in February, and at the same level as fiscal year 2003, before budget cuts were implemented."
"If education is truly legislatures' first priority, why don't they fund it first instead of using it as a subterfuge to raise taxes for other non-education agencies?" Nichols asked. "The legislature must stop sending classroom teachers to the front lines on the issue of raising taxes."
Numerous teachers questioned why the funding shortfall exists. "The legislature must assume some responsibility for this crisis," Nichols said. "When you consider the legislature's history of spending non-recurring growth revenue on recurring expenses, and combine that with the down-tick in the economy, you create the 'perfect storm' for a budget crisis."
Nichols acknowledges that funding education first will not leave enough revenue to fully fund rest of government. "There won't be enough revenue to fully fund rest of government after funding education first," Nichols said. "But if the legislature want's to raise taxes, be honest with the public, and tell them it is for non-education agencies."
Opposition claims that funding in February is fiscally irresponsible because the Office of State Finance will not have determined the fiscal year 2004 projected revenue until after session begins. "The legislature didn't hesitate to fund the teachers pay raise in February two years ago, so why not fund all of education in February this year," Nichols responded. "At least the opposition could simply agree in February that when the Office of Finance projections do come in, education will be funded first and before all other agencies."
Nichols also refutes any suggestion that making an appropriation that soon in the legislative session would be exclusive of the public's input. "To say that a February appropriation is exclusive of the public is to assert that teachers and parents would oppose funding education first, and such an assertion is absurd," Nichols said. "The public has already spoken on this issue and is in strong support of the classroom."