Budget & Tax , Education
Ray Carter | May 22, 2019
Democrats call for dramatic education spending increase
This year’s state appropriation for K-12 schools was above $3 billion for the first time ever. It’s now estimated K-12 schools will have received a $638 million increase in appropriations in just two years, including money for an average combined two-year pay raise of $7,320 for teachers.
But Oklahoma Senate Democrats say an additional $777 million increase should be provided, otherwise Oklahoma schools will be underfunded.
“The bottom line is, according to the numbers I have more recently, we’re still roughly $777 million behind putting enough into the formula where we can be regionally competitive,” said Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso.
During Senate floor debate Tuesday, Dossett said spending should be increased by $1,000 per student.
The $777 million cost of that proposal exceeds the entirety of this year’s historic budget surplus.
“Is this budget enough of an investment in public schools?” asked Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman. “Are we investing enough in our funding formula?”
In last year’s election, Boren said politicians campaigned on making Oklahoma a “top 10” state in education, a reference to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s campaign.
“Then we convened and we heard speeches and we started reading press releases and that was adjusted to being a top 30 state in education,” Boren said. “But recently, over the last four to five days, I’ve started hearing another set of words. And that is, ‘We’re better than last year.’’
The Republican budget plan sets aside $200 million into state savings, in addition to increasing classroom funding and teacher pay. Democrats criticized that effort, echoing complaints raised by the Oklahoma Education Association.
Dossett said setting aside $200 million in savings “for a downturn, and not put it into our kids, is the wrong move.” He said $200 million was being put into savings “for political agendas.”
“The number’s far too low in our formula investment, and that is where we are behind,” Dossett said. “Saving money’s a great idea for the future when you don’t have bills to pay.”
Sen. Roger Thompson, an Okemah Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, defended the $200 million in savings as a way to protect schools. He noted state government experienced three consecutive years of major shortfalls that totaled $800 billion, $1.3 billion, and $600 million, respectively.
“It was during those years that agencies took cuts, including education,” Thompson said. “That means that those teachers were in the room working with less materials. It means that they were in the room working with less aides.”
He pointed out that state government spends $560 million per month in appropriations, which represent just a portion of total state government spending.
“The governor’s leading us to having $2 billion in savings,” Thompson said. “I appreciate that leadership. But if you do the math right away, folks, that’s just a little over three months, almost four months’ worth of savings. That’s all that we have. We decried whenever we had to cut education and the other agencies because we had not prepared for it. And now under the leadership of our governor, we shall be prepared the next time that it comes along and those cuts will not be made and our children’s classes will not be cut.”
House Bill 2765, the general appropriations bill for state government, passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 37-11 vote. All Democrats voted against the bill as did two Republican lawmakers.
The legislation, which spends more than $8.1 billion, now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.