House may end dead­line for fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - Capi­tol Bureau dden­walt@oklahoman.com BY DALE DENWALT

Oklahoma law re­quires the Leg­is­la­ture fully fund ed­u­ca­tion by April 1 each year, but that dead­line has only been met once. This year, law­mak­ers could do away with the re­quire­ment al­to­gether.

State Rep. Earl Sears, a re­tired pub­lic school ad­min­is­tra­tor and for­mer chair of the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions and Bud­get Com­mit­tee, filed House Bill 3152. The bill, which re­peals the dead­line, cleared com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day with a 10-2 vote.

There was no dis­cus­sion and no de­bate in com­mit­tee. It now moves on to the full House for con­sid­er­a­tion.

In 2003, Gov. Brad Henry signed leg­is­la­tion that re­quired the House and Se­nate to pass an ed­u­ca­tion bud­get by the April dead­line. The plan worked only once. The 2004 ap­pro­pri­a­tion to the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion was signed into law just a few days be­fore April 1. That bill was the an­nual ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill, so it also in­cluded more than $4 bil­lion in fund­ing for other agen­cies.

In sub­se­quent years, the dead­line came and went de­spite pleas from ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cates that the Leg­is­la­ture fol­low its own law. School ad­min­is­tra­tors ar­gued they needed to know their ap­pro­pri­a­tion early so they could re­new teach­ers’ con­tracts be­fore school lets out. Law­mak­ers have said it’s hard to spend so much money when they don’t know how much will have to be carved out of the bud­get for ed­u­ca­tion.

The state bud­get is usu­ally adopted in late May as the Leg­is­la­ture pre­pares to leave the Capi­tol.

Shawn Hime, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Oklahoma State School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion, said Wed­nes­day the dead­line was the re­sult of po­lit­i­cal games.

“This bill doesn’t have any real im­pli­ca­tion on schools. Ob­vi­ously, they’ve only fol­lowed through once since it was passed over a decade ago, when one party was com­ing into power and an­other one was los­ing the ma­jor­ity,” he said.

Hav­ing a set dead­line, he said, doesn’t mean schools will be funded by that date, much less ad­e­quately funded by the Leg­is­la­ture.

“I think it’s far more im­por­tant to de­velop a long-term plan to fund pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and not worry about a date on the cal­en­dar,” Hime said. “The fact is, they haven’t fol­lowed it and it hasn’t cre­ated an at­mos­phere of pri­or­i­tiz­ing or fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion first. So we need to fo­cus on what’s im­por­tant, bring­ing every­one to­gether to de­velop a bud­get for the state of Oklahoma that will fund pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and other core ser­vices to the nec­es­sary level.”

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