A letter sent out by the Council for Great City Schools calls for stimulus funding to head off an "educational catastrophe." The letter was signed by Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel and Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist.

Courtesy Council of Great City Schools

Oklahoma City, Tulsa superintendents call for $200 billion in federal relief for schools

  • Robby Korth

Without a massive bailout from the federal government, the nation’s largest school districts face an “educational catastrophe,” according to a letter signed by Tulsa and Oklahoma City’s superintendents.

The letter, sent via the Council of Great City Schools, says that districts like Tulsa and Oklahoma City are facing massive budget shortfalls and educating kids will be difficult moving forward. It was signed by 62 superintendents.

“[D]ark clouds are forming on the educational horizon that will spell disaster if Congress does not intervene,” the letter said. “Significant revenue shortfalls are looming for local school districts that will exacerbate the disruption students have already faced. Some 40 to 50 percent of school district revenues, in fact, come from local sources that are expected to drop precipitously in the months ahead. This revenue decline will come on top of revenue losses in the months to come from state sources that have been more widely reported. Several big city school districts are now projecting 15 to 25 percent cuts in overall revenues going into next school year.”

You can read the full letter here

How big cuts might be in Oklahoma City and Tulsa is unclear. But the districts said in separate statements they are bracing for significant budget shortfalls.

The superintendents call for an additional $200 billion in funding to bail out schools nationwide. Schools have already received about $13 billion in funding from the Federal Cares Act.

Without the money, they estimate as many as 275,000 teachers across the country could lose their jobs.

In Oklahoma – a state with a massive teacher shortage – the districts say layoffs are unlikely. However, there are likely to be staffing difficulties next year and class sizes will likely rise and educating kids will become more difficult as districts will likely be forced not to fill positions after retirements or natural attrition.

Tulsa Public Schools reasons for signing the letter

When asked why superintendent Deborah Gist signed the letter, Tulsa Public Schools sent this statement:

“Like many school districts across the nation feeling the impact of unexpected costs due to COVID-19, we continue to provide meal services to students and transform our district from school-based to home-based learning in the wake of school closures. As we provide instruction at a distance, we will need further resources from the federal and state level to provide electronic learning devices and internet connections to every child.

“Over the last decade, state education funding has continued to lag – even with the state’s recent historic investment, we still have not reinvested to commensurate with where we were before 2008. Nothing is more important to the future of our state than a strong public education system. It is important to know that while other states may be facing teacher layoffs, Oklahoma continues to have a state-wide shortage of highly-qualified teachers. Our teacher hiring is ongoing throughout the year as we manage vacancies across our system. Tulsa Public Schools needs qualified teachers, and we have no intention of teacher layoffs of any kind.  

“While we cannot speculate what the state will do in regard to funding education for next school year, we are mindful that Oklahoma has quite a long way to go to restore funding to – and begin to meaningfully invest in – our public education system. We look forward to the continued work that our state and federal leaders are doing to ensure that our public school systems are able to truly thrive. At Tulsa Public Schools, our focus will continue to be on supporting children and keeping them on track to graduate high school and achieve the greatest successes in college, careers, and life.”

OKCPS reasons for signing the letter

An Oklahoma City Public Schools spokeswoman sent this statement from Superintendent Sean McDaniel.

“Oklahoma City Public Schools is currently evaluating the projected impact of the financial crisis as we continue to monitor the evolving state and national economic outlook. Our first priority will be to continue to protect direct classroom instruction and continue our laser-like focus on instructional improvement. As a result of several years of strong fiscal management, board member, and community support, OKCPS is forecasted to end the current fiscal year in a stable financial position; however, we know that tough financial times are ahead.  With so much of our budget ear-marked for staffing, it is hard not to imagine weathering any financial storm without it impacting the area of personnel. That said, any staffing position reductions will be managed first through the retirements and attrition that occur each year. Unfortunately, a significant financial downturn such as this will impact the classroom.  We will likely see an increase in class sizes, along with a halt in the progress Oklahoma schools were making toward providing competitive teacher salaries and increased instructional support to our staff and instructional and emotional safety-nets for our students. Although OKCPS is grateful that our elected officials wisely restored the rainy day fund which will smooth some of the shortfall for all state agencies, we are eagerly awaiting further guidance from the Oklahoma State Department of Education regarding the forthcoming stimulus funding and grant funding.”