An earlier version of the letter, according to KFOR News 4, was more explicit: “A better pathway would be to abolish public education, which is not a proper role of government, and allow the free market to determine pay and funding, eliminating the annual heartache we experience over this subject.”
But party leader Andrew Lopez told News 4 he recognizes that there is “going to be a transition period between properly funding and dealing with education as a public institution and letting the public assume their rightful responsibility of self-education and not allowing it to be a part of government’s role.”
While many Americans see the public education system as the nation’s most important civic institution, there are others, such as the GOP in Canadian County, who don’t believe funding education is a government function. They are at one end of the national debate on America’s schools and how they should be funded, which has taken on new urgency in recent years with growing attacks on public education and the rise of Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary under President Trump.
Long a proponent of expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, DeVos has called public schools “a dead end” and supports using public funds to pay for private and religious schools. She has not called for an end to public education. But she has said she would like to see the Education Department closed, and her critics say she wants to privatize public schools. As for Trump, he called public schools part of “American carnage” in his 2017 inaugural address.
Oklahoma, a politically conservative state, was the site of a statewide strike this year by teachers demanding higher pay and more funding for public education. In this month’s midterm elections, at least 16 members of the Oklahoma Education Association were elected to the state House and Senate, nine of them Republican.
Massive budget cuts to public education in Oklahoma by state legislators have left some districts able to fund school for only four days a week. Many schools don’t have heat or enough desks, books and staplers. Meanwhile, many Oklahoma teachers have had to work more than one job to pay their bills. All this led to the statewide strike in April. Teachers won a salary hike, but other demands, such as more school funding, were not met.
This is the full education passage in the Canadian County’s GOP letter:
If you are a teacher who has entered the legislature with the purpose of increasing funding for Oklahoma classrooms, please consider that, without the tax increases of HB 1010XX, our state saw increased revenue by almost $1.2 billion over last year’s collections. Rather than raise taxes, it would be more appropriate to find budget savings and efficiencies with forensic audits and by cutting administrative costs through school district consolidations and downsizing the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Realistically, there should be, at most, a school district for each county with additional school districts allowed for Oklahoma City and Tulsa. If public education shall continue as a state institution, we should move towards reducing its dependence on the tax structure by funding it through such means as sponsorships, advertising, endowments, tuition fees, etc. Very few of our 500+ school districts spend at least 65% of their budgets in the classroom. We insist that you pass legislation that requires school districts to direct at least 65% of their annual spend to the classroom, where the two most important people are, the teacher and the student.