From concern to activism: Tulsa woman organizes friends, allies to favor education spending

A Tulsa woman worried about what she considers inadequate government spending on education has gone from concern to activism in the space of a few weeks. She is now leading an effort to educate “moms like me” on how to press for increased education spending in ways that are effective and respectful.

Marlow Sipes was at the state Capitol this past week, visiting legislators and participating in a rally of several dozen like-minded people. That event drew roughly 40 fellow Tulsans, and a similar number from elsewhere around the state.

Sipes is the mother of three children, including attending two at Eisenhower International School in the Tulsa public school system.

She got engaged, she says, after learning school officials plan to reduce teaching jobs around the district as this academic year ends. One post on the chopping block, she told CapitolBeatOK, is “a beloved teacher” of her oldest son. As she reports it, $40,000 in reduced spending at Eisenhower means two teachers will be let go, including her son’s favorite. Who gets laid off is driven by seniority rules, she said.

Sipes started “” in early April, and a lot has happened since. Highwater mark, she says, was a large rally at the Edison High School Field House on April 26, a gathering that attracted 1,000 people to advocate for $50 million more in new or restored public education funding in the state education budget.

After the Edison rally, things have moved rather quickly – she and her friends were at the Capitol building engaging legislators roughly 72 hours after they came up with the idea to make the trip.

After speeches and distribution of talking points on the south side of the Capitol (on a beautiful day), Sipes and her friends went inside, to make the rounds visiting various legislators under the Dome.

The group’s website includes instructions to supporters on how to learn who their House and Senate members are, how to ask to speak with them when they are actually in session, encouragement to remain respectful in discussions, and other practical directions. For this effort, the group, including talking points in support of the $50 million objective, featuring the assessment that Oklahoma ranks 49th in public education spending per student.

When she sat for a brief interview with CapitolBeatOK, Sipes reported she had visited with Tulsa state Senators Tom Adelson,

Gary Stanislawski and Brian Crain – and with Clark Jolley of Edmond. She said each conversation was cordial, with Adelson, a Democrat, the most supportive.

In her recounting, Sen. Jolley, a key player in budget negotiations, asked Sipes if she had a suggestion on where to capture the resources for such a spending boost. She reports she replied that deciding where to get the money is “your job, not mine.” She also planed to visit with state Rep. Ron Peters, her House member.

The $50 million is envisioned as a means to replace an equivalent amount of federal stimulus money, utilized last year, that will not be available in the coming fiscal year. Of that amount, roughly 6 percent, or about $3.6 million, would go to Tulsa.

Tulsa public school officials have said a total of 75 to 80 positions will be lost if the revenue is not forthcoming from the state.

Sipes said it is important to restore funding streams for public schools to pre-Recession (2008-09) levels.

Sipes indicated she is likely to remain involved in pressing for more school funding after the current session.

The Legislature will adjourn May 25; the outline of a budget accord for Fiscal Year 2013 is expected this coming week (May 14-18).