EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
May 19, 2015
The state budget agreement announced Tuesday would deal some blows to common and higher education.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said the fiscal 2016 plan means Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s push to increase teacher pay and expand the school year is temporarily dead.
Hofmeister’s proposal called for raising teacher pay by $5,000 over five years, including $1,000 next year, and increasing the school year by five days. Oklahoma has the lowest teacher pay in the region and one of the lowest nationally.
“We want to find a long-term solution to help teachers with compensation,” Hime said. “The teacher shortage is the number one concern right now.”
Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association union, criticized the state for moving forward with income tax cuts and other tax incentives while also trying to fill a $611 million budget hole.
Hampton said the funding landscape does not look better next year either.
“The sad reality is that the fiscal policies of Oklahoma’s politicians are failing our public schools, their students and their teachers,” she said.
Hofmeister said she will continue to push her plan to increase teacher pay and add days to the school calendar.
“It’s a severe disappointment that this agreement was unable to address a crippling teacher shortage that continues to negatively impact Oklahoma schoolchildren,” Hofmeister said in a written statement. “The longer we fail to make our investment in common education a priority, the more likely it is we will pay economic and societal costs down the road.”
CareerTech, which offers vocational training to students at public schools and technology and skills centers, is looking at a 3.5 percent cut in FY 2016.
Higher education will make do with less money as well. The budget calls for a 2.44 percent decrease, which would be steeper were the state not making a one-time payment to retire a 2005 bond issue.
Hime said flat funding means less money will make it into the K-12 classroom because districts’ fixed operational costs are going up.
If the state sees another large bump in new students, that means there will be less money per student.
Hime said the budget does include $28.3 million in supplemental property tax funding meant to help districts balance their budgets for the current year.
That money is provided through a state program that covers the revenue that districts and counties lose due to property tax exemptions used to attract new businesses.
Overall, Hime said there was little surprising in Tuesday’s announcement.
“The governor and legislative leaders promised to hold common education funding flat, and that’s what they did,” he said.
Gary Davidson, director of the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges, said higher education has been cut more than $100 million since 2008, and the newest one will be on top of that.
Smaller colleges, especially those serving rural communities, have eliminated all the extras in their budgets, such as travel expenses for faculty and staff, association memberships and other professional development expenses, Davidson said.
“They’ve cut everything they can cut, and now they are having to look at programs and people going away,” Davidson said.
Ben Fenwick of Oklahoma Watch contributed to this report.
Nate Robson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org