Oklahoma Educators 'Shooting in the Dark' When it Comes to the Budget

Apr 28, 2017

Teachers rally at the Oklahoma capitol
Credit KWGS News File Photo

Oklahoma lawmakers' deadline to pass an education budget is nearly a month behind us now.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said considering the ongoing difficulty collecting the forecasted amount of revenue, she wouldn't want the budget lawmakers would have passed April 1, anyway.

"What we need is to get it right and have certainty and stability, and that matters more to me than pressing about a particular deadline. That may be something that can be done when we have stability, when we start to see these plans that are being laid right now successful, but that is years down the road," Hofmeister said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has been in contact with lawmakers throughout the session. Hofmeister has attended budget committee hearings, and the department hosted funding boot camps for this session's 49 freshman legislators.

While lawmakers began the real budget work this week, passing several bills out of the joint appropriations and budget committee, public schools still don't know what to expect next school year.

Lawmakers have said education will be held as harmless as possible. Sand Springs Assistant Superintendent Rob Miller said the district anticipates a state funding cut of 3 to 10 percent — or $500,000 to $1.5 million — but they won't know until probably the last week of school.

"We're shooting in the dark and hoping we're close," Miller said. "So, we're shooting at about 4 to 5 percent, hoping that that's where it's going to land, and if it lands at 10 percent, we call it 'Plan D,' which is plan disaster, is what we call that plan."

Hofmeister said while many lawmakers know more revenue is needed, the super majority needed to approve tax increases because of State Question 640 is an obstacle.

"So, if you have a small minority who say no, then that does tie the hands of those who are willing," Hofmeister said.

Miller said another issue is some lawmakers aren't convinced there's a problem.

"The reality is, is we've still got a core group of legislators who believe that schools are adequately funded. They really do," Miller said.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma has cut education funding nearly 24 percent since 2010, the most in the nation.