$3.29 billion education budget request passes state board
A $3.29 billion budget request for Fiscal Year 2021 passed an Oklahoma State Board of Education vote Thursday, leaving the door open to the highest levels of education funding since 2009.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the budget would restore education funding to prerecession amounts after 10 years of cuts.
“We’re really looking at getting out of the hole and then having a place where we continue to build,” Hofmeister said. “Our students have been doing without, and you can see by looking at academic performance. You can see by looking at the teacher shortage what happens when you take away these funds.”
The state granted 3,038 emergency teaching certificates in 2018, and more than 1,600 by the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. The 2017-18 statewide report card showed only 45% of Oklahoma students had test scores reflecting they were ready for the next grade level and 50% showed academic growth over the previous year.
The proposed budget would increase overall state education funding by $219.97 million, including $117.89 million more added to the school funding formula.
The requested budget includes more than $19 million for a School Counselor Corps. This new initiative would hire 366 school counselors and improve the student-to-counselor ratio in schools.
With a $42.58 million increase for support of students and teachers, formerly called the public school activities fund, other education programs could see significant boosts in financial support.
For example, the board requested $9.68 million more for alternative education and $4.46 million more toward early childhood intervention with SoonerStart.
The request is subject to change before a final state budget passes in the Legislature next year. However, the proposal will help inform budget decisions from Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Legislature.
The $3.29 billion request is the same amount appropriated in fiscal year 2009, but the state would have to make those dollars stretch further in fiscal year 2021. The request is not adjusted for inflation, and the state’s student population has grown by 50,000.
“We’re only asking to return to 2009,” Hofmeister said. “We’re actually still saying we’re going to be OK with the same money, but we’re going to be serving 50,000 more kids.”
Some on the board were hesitant to use 2009 as a benchmark for 2021 funds. Board member Kurt Bollenbach voiced concern that previous funding levels might not serve the state’s long-term plan for 2025, known as the Oklahoma Edge.
Oklahoma Edge focuses on six goals, including to rank in the top 10 in the country for high school graduation, score in the top 20 for highest-performing states and reduce the number of emergency-certified teachers by 95%.
“In my view, we need to be way over 2009 (funding levels) because we have a plan,” Bollenbach said. “So I think once we start comparing to 2009 we almost take our eye off of what the goal is.”
Hofmeister pointed out the board passed a significantly larger request last year, which was ultimately scaled down to $3.07 billion in the Legislature’s final state budget.
Bill Flanagan, the longest tenured member, reminded the rest of the board that the budget request is malleable and only the first step in a lengthy legislative process.
“This is just an outline, a plan,” Flanagan said. “It goes to the Senate, the House and the governor’s office, and then they’ll put their plan together and it comes back to us. This is just a first budget attempt. … This is not the final cut. This is just a preliminary cut at something we need to move this process along.”