We don't have this kind of money, Rep. Jack Begley, D-Goodwell,
told his budget subcommittee Wednesday, a sentiment he repeated at
least three times to officials seeking additional funding for the
public schools, higher education and career-technology programs for
the fiscal year starting July 1.
Begley said that the three branches of education are asking for
many times more than the $100 million his subcommittee was allocated
to spread among them and a dozen other agencies.
Actually, the subcommittee chair said, after setting aside $5.6
million to upgrade the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority to
digital television capability and setting aside about $10 million
for all the other agencies, there may be as little as $90 million
for common education, colleges and universities and vo-tech.
Begley said that a top priority will be funding a mandated 1
percent increase in employer contributions to the Oklahoma Teachers
For the public schools, he said, this could cost $35 million
total for this year and the next, although a budget document
supplied to the subcommittee pegs the cost at $48 million.
He also considers boosting textbook funding as taking precedence
over other needs. Increasing these funds from $32 to $70 per pupil
would cost $23 million, Begley noted.
Another priority, Begley told State Superintendent of Public
Instruction Sandy Garrett, is funding the flexible benefit allowance
for school support personnel, which carries a $14.6 million price
That's most of the money, Begley said.
Garrett said that she understands the needs of the other branches
of education, but that the State Board of Education is mandated to
develop its own budgeting priorities for the public schools.
Initially the board's priority list topped $398 million, and even
the pared-down top-10 list she submitted Wednesday comes to more
than $302 million.
Leading the list is $117.5 million more for financial support of
schools, a need Garrett said is fueled mainly by student population
growth, maintenance needs and other operating costs.
Second is $84.4 million for a 5 percent increase in the minimum
salary schedule for certified teachers, third $8.7 million to add
five steps to the salary schedule for career teachers.
Garrett said that many career teachers are leaving the schools
due to low salaries at the higher career steps.
The agency is also asking for $13.8 million to increase textbook
funding from $32 to $55 per pupil.
Another $30 million would go toward incentives for teachers in
critical shortage areas.
Asked by Rep. Terry Ingmire, R-Stillwater, to name a couple of
priorities within the limitations placed on the subcommittee,
Garrett said that the retirement mandate would be number one,
followed by increasing textbook funding.
Begley made the same cautionary statement to higher education
Chancellor Hans Brisch, noting that the State Regents for Higher
Education have requested an additional $150 million for each of the
next two years.
Brisch listed $33 million in mandated costs, $84.7 million for
the regents Brain Gain program to boost the number of Oklahoma
college graduates, $2. …