Education leaders across the state have been telling the state Legislature this session that schools wanted more money directed through the funding formula so schools will have more discretion and flexibility. So the state Legislature did just that.
“The Legislature put $33 million previously line item for textbooks into the state-aid funding formula so schools can make spending decisions at the local level based on their own unique needs,” said Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview.
Appropriations Chairman Clark Jolley and Speaker of the House Hickman say they are puzzled as to why Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in her news release regarding school textbook funding complained that budget appropriations do not earmark money for textbooks.
Jolley, R-Edmond, said the the Legislature demonstrated it is trying to meet the needs of the schools’ call for flexibility in spending that they have requested for years. Jolley said the schools are still receiving the funding to buy textbooks, but it is at their discretion in the case that they need to spend the money elsewhere.
“We’ve told them for numerous years that they have flexibility and freedom to use those dollars for whatever they would like,” Jolley said. “This last year I had a conversation with the director of the Oklahoma State School Board Association, asking him if we put money in textbooks or formula which one would be helpful. And I was told to put the money in the formula because they can always use the money in the formula to buy the textbooks.”
Jolley said people complain that the state of Oklahoma is not funding education when the reality is that more tax dollars are going to education.
“It’s just been going to health insurance costs for the teachers instead of going through the formula,” Jolley said.
Hickman said in a year when lawmakers had $1.3 billion less to build a budget, they found ways to hold common education’s budget flat when other agencies were receiving large cuts which Superintendent Hofmeister recently praised as a “Herculean effort.”
Protecting school funding during this historic oil bust and getting as many dollars as possible directly into classrooms was one of the top priorities for Republican budget leaders in the Senate and House, Jolley said.
“The Legislature forced numerous other state agencies to absorb millions of dollars in cuts so common education would not have to see any further reductions past those made in the FY ’16 budget year,” Jolley said. “By shifting these resources within the common education budget, we are trying to make sure that the classrooms get more direct funding.”