Oklahoma Educators Say Proposed State Budget Essentially Flat (NewsOn6)

By Emory Bryan

The give and take of the state budget process continues for Oklahoma public education. Governor Mary Fallin says lawmakers are giving schools $80 million in new money – but school districts says the increase is really half that.

While the budget hasn’t passed, those are the numbers the governor and top leaders say to expect.

The people who spend that money say the increase isn’t as much as it seems.

The state budget deal will mean more money for education than last year, but it’s not nearly as much as just a few years ago. The first analysis of next year’s education funding will go up by about $30 dollars per student.

“To put that into perspective, to get back to where schools were in 2008 with inflations, they would really need about $700 dollars more, so it’s really just beginning to restore what’s been cut in the past,” said Gene Perry with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

The deal announced Friday would mean $80 million more for education than last year. The first $40 million will pay the increasing cost of health care for school employees. The remaining $40 million will be divided among the schools statewide.

For Tulsa Public Schools – the share is about $2.5 million.

“We have a lot of shortages; we’re not paying teachers what we ought to, and we’ll use it to address building needs best we can,” said Dr. Keith Ballard, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent.

Tulsa’s superintendent notes the district is ending the year without $500,000 for healthcare that wasn’t funded last year. But he’s optimistic lawmakers might be listening.

The budget deal comes after the largest education rally in 20 years at the state capitol. Everything from testing reforms, to parent control and funding were rallying points – but at the end of the session – many educators aren’t sure how much of a difference they made with lawmakers.

“Soon after that rally, lawmakers voted to schedule further income tax cuts for future years so those have already been put first in line,” Perry said. “When revenues go up, it’s going to go to tax cuts.”

The changes to the 3rd grade retention law passed – but the governor has not signed it and could veto it. And there were no changes made to the A-F grading system this year.

There’s still a chance other funding could come through, but no one I talked with believes it’s likely.



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