KGOU

Hofmeister: Four Percent Cut Means $100 Million Loss

Mar 18, 2015

Updated 11:06 a.m.

Oklahoma's state schools superintendent says a 4 percent cut in the Department of Education's budget would reduce funding for the state's public schools by $100 million next year.

Superintendent Joy Hofmeister outlined her agency's budget request Wednesday for members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Lawmakers must deal with a budget shortfall of $611 million as they work to craft a budget for state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Hofmeister says state appropriations have not kept up with the growth in the state's student population in recent years. Hofmeister also says the state faces a chronic teacher shortage because salaries have not kept up with other states.

Hofmeister has proposed increasing teacher pay by $5,000 and adding five days of instruction over five years.

Original Post

Oklahoma lawmakers are preparing for budget requests from two of the largest agencies in state government.

State Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister and Nico Gomez, head of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, will make separate budget proposals Wednesday to members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The Department of Education is requesting an appropriation of almost $2.1 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1, a $205 million increase from the current year's funding.

Legislation to boost teacher salaries and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into classrooms over the next decade has already died in the state Legislature. OSDE officials told eCapitol's Christie Southern they the think the bill still has a chance this session.

"We don't believe that proposal itself or that plan is dead," said Phil Bacharach, director of communications for the department. "We remain optimistic and continue to push with the Legislature at the need for a teacher pay raise bill that would also raise days of instruction to get to the national average."

Others are not so optimistic.

Sen. Ron Sharp, vice chair of the Senate Education committee, told eCapitol Monday the more likely scenario is OSDE takes a budget cut.

"If common education can just take a 2 percent cut they'd be very lucky," he said. "I hope that's all it's going to be but right now it's more likely they'll take a 6 percent cut."

Sharp said the House is looking at using carryover funds and Rainy Day Funds and perhaps something could be done but it is unlikely. As to whether Gov. Mary Fallin is on board with that, remains to be seen, he noted.

"It's still so early in the process," Bacharach said. "Discussions continue with the leadership and governor's office certainly making the case for the importance of addressing the teacher shortage. What ultimately transpires, we don't know, it's still so early in the process."

"Certainly she (Hofmeister) understands and recognizes the significant shortfall the state faces this year, she's not unaware of the dire fiscal situation but by the same token there are ways to address the shortfall and look to doing something for teachers."

The Health Care Authority, Oklahoma's Medicaid provider, is seeking a budget of more than $900 million.

Lawmakers are working to overcome a $611 million budget shortfall for the upcoming year.

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