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Democrats pan Oklahoma's flat common education budget

Flickr / texasbackroads

Oklahoma’s almost $3.2 billion common education budget is the biggest in state history.

Legislators have often touted their commitment to funding common education in the wake of the 2018 teacher walkout.

But, the narrow growth — of less than half a percent from the previous year’s budget — is inadequate, a number of critics have said. It certainly doesn’t keep up with the current 8% inflation rate.

Common ed makes up roughly a third of Oklahoma’s $9.8 billion budget. And much of the $16.8 million rise in the budget is actually earmarked — so schools will see no increase for day-to-day operations.

All that means the actual money falls short of where it should be, Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, said during debate on a budget bill.

“We can do better,” he said. “Teachers and support staff count on us as much as do students.”

Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, is chairman of the House Education Budget Subcommittee. And he defended the education portion of the budget.

“You know, we’ve put record amounts of money in the budget over the last six years, and I’m sorry this may have fallen short of some people’s expectations,” he said.

The budget also includes a big increase for higher education. The higher education increase is about 7.5%, worth tens of millions of dollars to bring its annual allocation up to $873 million. That’s the highest total since 2016.

The budget is expected to be fully approved this week as the legislative session draws to a close.

Here’s what other lawmakers have said about the education portion of funding:

Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa:
“A half-percent increase for the common education budget when the state budget has grown by nearly a billion dollars falls short of the needs of our public schools and the 700,000 students they serve. Once distributed among the line-item projects funded in the budget, the half-percent increase won’t make it to our public school districts. Due to global inflation caused by the pandemic, operation costs are at an all-time high. If we can give an international, multi-billion dollar company $700 million, surely we can find a way to help our community school districts manage rising costs.”

Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater:
“An incremental investment in common education is necessary to give students the stability they need. Instead, we’re told ‘not this year.’ A budget held flat is a cut when considering the current inflation rate. Our districts have to make tough decisions that affect the learning of our students. We cannot hope for economic development in this state without simultaneously investing in our children’s education.”

Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman:
“This budget provides a slight increase in appropriations for common and higher education, while the state has more money than in past legislative sessions. The half-percent increase isn’t enough to help public schools navigate inflation and the scars from historic funding cuts in the not-so-distant past. Progress takes investment, and this budget simply doesn’t do enough to invest in our teachers, support staff, and classrooms.”

Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City:
“There is no higher priority than investing in our public schools, yet this budget includes little new investment in education, which is essentially a cut. Oklahoma continues to lag our neighboring states in investment in the school funding formula. Many of our teachers are frustrated and contemplating retirement or leaving the profession altogether. There is an urgent need to address these challenges, but this status quo budget fails to do so.”

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka:
"Thanks to years of fiscal discipline, Republicans have produced yet another increasingly solvent budget that provides historic savings, returns taxpayer money and funds key investments all at once. This budget avoids overspending, helps families fight inflation and positions all Oklahomans for future prosperity, whether in times of opportunity or challenge. On behalf of the House, I appreciate the many contributions of the House, Senate, Governor and people of Oklahoma to this excellent budget."

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City:
"This year’s budget agreement reflects that the Oklahoma Legislature prioritizes education, law enforcement and healthcare. It does so in a manner that is fiscally sound. It also acknowledges that Oklahoma families are being hurt by failed federal policies and gives them meaningful relief – in addition to the tax cuts we passed last year. This is all possible because of a combination of tough decisions made by this Legislature in 2017 and conservative fiscal restraint in the years since. I’d like to extend my gratitude to my Senate colleagues, our House counterparts, and the Governor for their work on this budget that will pay dividends for years to come."

In a news release from House Republicans:
“The largest area of the budget continues to be education, at $4.2 billion, or 44%. In the agreement, public K-12 schools continue to be funded at the highest level in state history, $3.2 billion, on top of billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid for schools and surging local property tax revenues in many school districts.”

“Higher education receives $873 million, including a $60.6 million, or 7%, state appropriation increase, the largest increase to colleges and universities in recent history.”

Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
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