House may end deadline for funding education
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.”