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August 20, 2017

Bad Not Worse


The State Schools Superintendent called it HERCULEAN! Others said it was still bad news, just not worse.

It was the surprise news Tuesday afternoon that the governor and state legislative leaders on a budget agreement. For months, legislators worked behind closed doors while school districts like Luther made painfully deep cuts to programs, faculty and staff.

Governor Mary Fallin was out with a news release saying the budget agreement with the Republican leaders of the state house and senate held funding for common education at current levels.

“There are still reductions in this budget, and it requires more hard votes to pass, but it is certainly a workable budget even amid a major energy sector downturn that is creating difficulties all across Oklahoma. We worked hard to protect key core services – common education, health and human services, corrections, mental health services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority – while keeping our eight-year transportation infrastructure plan intact,” said Gov. Fallin

State Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister also had her communications staff (three listed on the news release) share a statement:

“We are deeply grateful that in the proposed budget, common education funding will be held flat next fiscal year. This was a herculean effort on the part of Gov. Fallin and legislative leadership – particularly President Pro Tempore Bingman, Speaker Hickman, Sen. Jolley, Rep. Sears, Sen. Halligan and Rep. Martin – one we realize means greater sacrifices and deeper cuts for other vital agencies. We know this has been a difficult session for lawmakers, and we greatly appreciate their commitment to making hard decisions and doing everything they can to protect our kids. This budget represents a best-case scenario as we plan for the next school year and continue to work together to maximize educational outcomes for Oklahoma schoolchildren.”

Away from the State Capitol Complex, the news was taken with a little more salt.

Statement from Shawn Hime, Executive Director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association: “The reality is even with this agreement, schools will continue struggling with a severe teacher shortage, growing class sizes and shrinking educational opportunities for students. The significant cut to Oklahoma’s world-class career technology centers will affect thousands of students.

“While we are thankful to state leaders for prioritizing public education, this year is evidence Oklahoma desperately needs a long-term funding plan to improve teacher pay and ensure schools have the resources to offer rich educational opportunities for every student,” said Hime.

And at home in Luther, Superintendent Sheldon Buxton was asked to comment on the news.

‘Hopefully this will pass the vote of the Legislature. The remaining impact for Luther will be determined as we prepare the Estimate of Needs for the 2016-17 school term. This estimate is simply that, an estimate of revenue. We hope that we will see an upturn in that budget document come August,” said Dr. Buxton.

“Education is the greatest investment the state can make. Every community, every business and every Oklahoman must be part of a long-term solution for properly funding education,” said Hime.

The deadline for a budget is this Friday when the legislature adjourns.

FY 2017 budget agreement spreadsheet: https://www.ok.gov/OSF/documents/FY17GABillSummary.xlsx

FY 2017 budget agreement summary: https://www.ok.gov/OSF/documents/FY17BudgetAgreementSummary.pdf

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