Point of View: Working on Oklahoma education funding
We’re getting close to the end of the legislative session, and we’re in the final stages of state budget negotiations. As chairman of the Education Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee, it’s been my job to help prioritize spending for common education, higher education and CareerTech as well as other areas under the education umbrella.
My requests for common education so far total about a $140 million increase over last year’s record $2.9 billion appropriation. This would include about $70 million for a $1,200 pay raise for all public school teachers. Coupled with last year’s raise, this would take Oklahoma teachers toward the top pay in our region. About $40 million would be added to the state funding formula with the expectation it will go into our classrooms. The rest will be line-itemed for specific programs such as reading initiatives and others that directly help our students.
The Senate and I are not very far apart on our requests, but they would do without the teacher pay raise and put all the money in the formula. I think we can do both. We will keep working to narrow our differences over the next few weeks.
In addition to common education, I requested another $50 million increase to go toward higher education, CareerTech and other agencies counted under the education budget. Before I took over as committee chairman, higher education was cut quite a bit. It’s time to start reinvesting in this area. As important as it is for our kids to go to school, we also need to make sure those who want to go to college can and those who want other career pathways have those opportunities.
This budget also includes money for the Department of Libraries, which provides so much more than just books. Our libraries provide internet access for those without it. They provide literacy services for those who can’t read. They help preserve state history. They provide interactive activities for our children. Libraries are awesome places. I remember going to the library as a child, and I want other children and adults to enjoy this privilege for years to come.
The Arts Council also will benefit. As important as reading, writing and arithmetic are, the arts are important as well. They provide culture and enrich our lives. They also help build our economies through attracting tourism dollars and providing jobs, and they are shown to improve student learning in other areas.
Of course, the final decision on all appropriations will be between the House, the Senate and the governor.
McBride, R-Moore, represents District 53 in the Oklahoma House.