— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — While Oklahoma legislators have spent much of the session so far publicly debating school safety and whether to allow armed teachers in schools, the discussion that educators and administrators are really interested in is taking place behind closed doors — how much money common education will receive in next year's budget.
Funding for public schools in Oklahoma is one of many contentious education-related issues being hammered out by legislative leaders this year, but an agreement on how much money will go to public schools this year hasn't been reached.
Rep. Scott Martin, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said last week that officials with the House, Senate and governor's office are nearing consensus on a supplemental budget proposal for select agencies to finish out the fiscal year that ends June 30, but no final decision has been made.
"We're very close, but we're not ready to announce anything just yet," Martin said Friday.
Martin said a supplemental funding agreement will have to take into account the overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi has asked lawmakers for nearly $40 million to finish out the current fiscal year, mostly to pay for recently enacted legislative mandates like the new Achieving Classroom Excellence, or ACE, end-of-instruction tests and new reading proficiency requirements. Also included in her request is $8.5 million for increased costs of teacher health benefits and nearly $6 million to help districts cover the estimated increase of nearly 10,000 new students since the end of the last school year.
Fallin's executive budget, however, only included a request for $8.5 million in supplemental funding to help pay for the costs of the flexible benefit allowance for public school teachers and staff. The actual costs of those benefits have exceeded the projections that were available during the 2012 session.