Story by Haley Humphrey
Photo courtesy of Rose State College
The budget cuts in Oklahoma education have created a crisis, which has continued to escalate each year. Higher Education Day 2018 was thought to involve the groundbreaking monetary changes for which higher education officials have been searching. Gov. Mary Fallin and Chancellor Glen Johnson shared their optimism of the future of higher education to media outlets and educators statewide.
Fingers were crossed for the plan #RestoreHigherEd to be successful when Rose State leadership students walked the steps of the state capitol Feb. 13. Ready to hear the proposal legislative officials had to offer. Ready to voice their concerns. Ready to be heard.
Business and community leaders organized the Step Up Oklahoma plan and were ready to fight to end the state’s budget deadlock. However, the proposition was declined after put to a vote Feb. 12.
If it had been enacted, the Step Up strategy claimed it would “stabilize state revenue, reform government to increase efficiency and cut abuse, and raise teacher pay by $5,000 a year,” according to the Step Up Oklahoma website.
Their long list of endorsing organizations and supporters gave some people hope for the bright outcome Fallin and Johnson said they envisioned. As with any new plan, there were people wary of the aspects that fell under the compromise. Most specifically, the taxes Step Up pushed to the front of the table, which would have affected the following categories:
The capitol was bustling with administrators, students, representatives and senators, all scattered throughout the building, talking one-on-one and in small groups, with scattered thoughts about what would come next.
Rose State’s Leadership group crammed into a room on the fourth floor to listen to Oklahoma Rep. Roger Ford. He welcomed the students in and was open to questions. Immediate inquiries flew about what will replace the Step Up plan. Ford acknowledged the new group of people who are backing the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, but did not have much information about any aspects of it or when it will be addressed.
However, Ford freely shared his opinion on why higher education is still trapped in, as he called it, “a snake pit,” because both parties remain at a stalemate. Just like in the federal government, the state is unable to cross an agreement threshold through bipartisanship.
The students were moved to another location of the capitol, to a session holding room where Ford accompanied them, standing at the front, putting into perspective how divided the area is when Republicans and Democrats make their way to sit at the desks on the floor.
“There is separation before you even walk in the room,” Ford said.
The biggest question is how this year’s Higher Education Day outcome will affect Rose State, the community home-front. The college will be stuck waiting for changes to be made, but that is not stopping President Jeanie Webb. Rose State’s biggest fan and political advocate was excited to see her Leadership students taking part in the future of education at the college and university level. She reminded the students and advisers to ensure that the legislators answered their questions, to the full extent. The wait for the appropriate decision continues; however, Rose State representatives, like Webb, are not quitters. They will still be present for whatever comes next.
A brighter future for political compromises and education is what most Rose State students would like to see.
“Leaving the capitol, I realized being there confirmed what I already knew,” said Andrew Mullins, Senate Floor Leader at Rose State. “There are legislators that do not care for the greater good of Oklahoma citizens, but I learned there is hope because some of them care; it is just going to take time.”