- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - For the past two years, thousands of public education supporters have crowded into the Oklahoma Capitol, mostly to ask legislators for teacher pay raises, increased education funding and a reduction in the number of mandatory tests.

And for two consecutive years, they have returned to their school districts with little to show for their efforts.

As the gavel fell on the 2015 legislative session last week, legislators were unable to reach a deal to either reduce the number of mandatory tests or increase teacher pay.

“I don’t feel like there was a whole lot accomplished this session,” said Donita Brown, an elementary school teacher from Yukon. “I don’t think there was a lot of harm done either. There was pretty much nothing.”

The Legislature did manage to hold the common education budget flat, which was no easy task given a $611 million shortfall. But many education supporters say a standstill budget amounts to a cut because of rising fixed costs and an increased number of students.

House Democratic Leader Scott Inman said the public education rallies in 2014 and 2015 were the largest at the Capitol in more than two decades, but did little to sway the Republican-controlled Legislature to meet education supporters’ demands.

“They rallied to stop tax cuts. They rallied for more funding. They rallied for more teacher pay. They rallied for reduced testing. They lost all of those,” the state representative from Del City said. “Every major thing they asked for, they lost on. And for two years in a row.”

But Rep. Ann Coody, the chair of the House Common Education Committee, said agreeing to fund public schools with $2.5 billion, nearly one-third of the state-appropriated budget, was a major accomplishment since the state faced a $611 million budget hole for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“We held education harmless while most other agencies had to absorb more cuts, regrettably,” said Coody, a Lawton Republican and a retired educator. “It was our desire to increase the amount of money we give to education, and also we realize how important it is to give our teachers a raise. And we very much want to give them a raise, but it was just impossible this year.”

Coody said lawmakers also want to reduce the number of state-mandated tests that are required every year, but that such a move would be premature since new standards are being developed after the Legislature abolished the Common Core standards for math and English last year.

“You can’t create a good assessment unless you have the standards you’re going to be using,” Coody said.

Among the education-related policy measures the Legislature approved this year were bills to potentially expand the number of charter schools by allowing public school districts and career technology districts across the state to serve as sponsoring organizations. Legislators also passed a bill to extend for three years the use of “reading teams” that would be allowed to promote third-graders who score unsatisfactory marks on state-mandated reading tests and a measure that prohibits the deduction of union dues from teachers’ paychecks.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .

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