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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Oklahoma Budget Failure Causes Schools to Shut Down Early

Adam Banner - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our blog typically deals with criminal defense issues, but today we are going to explore a topic that, although in a different sphere, could eventually impact criminal justice: education.

When the Oklahoma legislature announced a budget failure, virtually every state agency felt the impact. Particularly painful are the cuts to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections with its overcrowded and understaffed prisons, the Department of Human Services with its more than 10,000 children in foster care, and the Department of Education in a state that already ranks at the bottom in teacher pay and per-pupil spending.

Let us look for a moment at how schools across Oklahoma are forced to deal with the loss of millions of dollars in funding--before the school year is even over.

School districts begin by trimming the "extras"--often, the arts and electives that do not generate funding for the school, but also field trips and travel for competitions and learning opportunities. For many students, an elective course or an arts class is the only thing bearable in school. Eliminating these outlets can lead to student becoming disenfranchised or dropping out completely. 

Next, schools cut teaching positions. Oklahoma City has announced that it plans to cut 280 teaching jobs. Each teaching position cut leads to more students in the classroom. When student-teacher ratios are out of whack, large class sizes deprive students of the ability to get individual help and attention from the teacher. Struggling students will slip through the cracks. Thus, more potential slips down the drain as students struggle or drop out.

And this year, the budget situation is so drastic that a number of school districts have decided to shorten the school year. In many districts, student days are based on the number of educational hours, rather than typical days. These districts often build extra hours into each school day in an effort to create a cushion for snow days and to ensure students have adequate learning time, given all the distractions (hours of testing, anyone?) in a typical school year. Now, many districts are using that "cushion" of extra hours to cut the school year short in an effort to save money:

  • Bixby Public Schools will close a week early.
  • Edmond Public Schools and Putnam City Public Schools will each close two days early for students, and teachers will have inservice meetings and professional development on the days that would have been the final student days.
  • Ada schools will shorten their school year by six days in an effort to save $30,000.

Those schools are ending this school year early, but other districts have already made changes to the 2016-2017 school year.

  • Luther schools recently voted to shorten the 2016-2017 school year, but will have longer school days to compensate for the shortened year.
  • Catoosa Public Schools will go to a four-day school week in 2016-2017. 

The shortened school year and the four-day school week are concerning, not just in the educational impact they will have on students, but for more practical reasons as well. Many Oklahoma parents simply cannot afford an extra day of child care, and cannot afford to take off work that extra day each week. Additionally, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch may have school breakfast and lunch as their only meals of the day. An extra day out of school each week, or a longer breaks during the year, or a shortened school year means these students will go hungry many days.

Depriving students of the resources they need to thrive--physically, academically, and emotionally--creates a desperate cycle. For some Oklahoma children, these drastic measures to trim the budget will have a lifelong impact by further widening the gap between the "haves and the have nots."






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