The state Department of Education’s next budget ask includes a $61 million proposal to entice new teachers and reward teachers and tutors with bonuses. 

The Board of Education approved the request for fiscal year 2025 totaling $3.92 billion at its regular meeting Thursday. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters pitched the proposal as fiscally responsible because they’re asking for $47 million less than this year’s record appropriation. 

But funding for this year included one-time payments of $150 million for a three-year pilot program to fund school police officers and $10 million for literacy resources. Excluding those one-time expenses, the new budget is $112.9 million larger.

“We are requesting a budget that is no higher than last year,” Walters said. “When we see President Biden pushing this rampant inflation across the country and our state, I don’t believe it would be responsible for us to come in after a record investment from the legislature last year and ask for additional money on what they’ve already sent to us.”

The Legislature infused $785 million in new funding for education this year for teacher raises, paid maternity leave, and other programs.

Walters said his goals for the agency are to eliminate indoctrination and refocus on the basics of reading, science, math and civics, and he proposed using a slate of bonuses to address it. The $60.5 million Back to Basics plan includes $10 million for signing bonuses to recruit math and science teachers, enough to provide $25,000 to 350 teachers who commit to teaching for 5 years. 

It also includes $15 million for bonuses for teachers whose students demonstrate growth in literacy, $5 million for bonuses for teachers whose students demonstrate growth in math, and additional programs to train and pay tutors in reading and math. 

Other notable changes in the budget proposal: 

  • A $4.8 million increase in the cost of required student assessments
  • $2.4 million for Imagination Library, a program to mail books to children under 5 years old started by country singer Dolly Parton
  • Elimination of state funding for Imagine Math and Imagine Language & Literacy, supplemental online curricula programs, a $2 million savings
  • Elimination of funding for Teach for America, a program to place young college graduates and professionals into classrooms with a 2-year commitment, a $2 million savings.

Board members unanimously approved the budget proposal. Only one member asked any questions. 

The request moves to the Legislature, which has the final say on state education funding. Last session, lawmakers gave Walters’ $150 million performance-based teacher pay plan an icy reception and instead gave all teachers raises based on years of experience. 
Walters implemented a smaller bonus program using $16 million in federal funds. He touted the success of that program on Thursday but details have yet to be released.

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.

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