Ray Carter | May 19, 2021

Massive education spending is declared not enough

Ray Carter

With this year’s budget agreement, state appropriations to public schools will have increased from $2.4 billion in 2018 to $3.2 billion by 2022, according to figures touted by the House Republican caucus.

But critics of the budget agreement have one response: It’s not enough.

“We have the ability to invest more,” said Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso. “And we’re choosing not to.”

He added that lawmakers are “even cutting our revenue sources,” referring to income-tax cuts and corporate-tax cuts included in the budget agreement.

“I’m concerned that we don’t invest every dollar we can in public education,” Dossett said.

Dossett made those comments during debate over Senate Bill 1067, which provides this year’s record-high appropriation for state schools.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chair Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, noted that state appropriations are only a share of overall Oklahoma public-school funding.

“If you add up everything in the state’s education budget, the total with federal dollars, contracts, operations and so on is about $5,818,000,000,” Pemberton said.

And schools have also received massive amounts of federal bailout funding due to COVID-19. Pemberton said the combined federal funding provided to schools through different federal COVID measures totaled more than $2 billion.

“Am I hearing right that that is money above and beyond what we are appropriating in this budget?” asked Sen. Kim David, R-Porter.

“You’re 100 percent correct,” Pemberton responded.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said the state’s school budget was not crafted based on those federal dollars because reliance on one-time funding for ongoing expenses creates budget holes in future years.

“We’re very much aware of those federal dollars,” Thompson said, adding that the budget was nonetheless crafted so “that we will be able to continue funding this” even after federal bailout funds are expended.

Pemberton also stressed that lawmakers “have been judicious about making sure we don’t put ourselves in a situation where we are going to put dollars that are going to evaporate and go away.”

Yet even without federal bailout funds, he noted lawmakers nonetheless increased school funding.

“We have not cut anything in education,” Pemberton said. “Matter of fact, we have actually put over $178 million (more) into the education budget and grown it even in a pandemic year, plus not even adding in or counting those federal dollars on top.”

But Dossett argued lawmakers “need to invest more.”

“We’re taking positive steps from the first few years that I was here, but it’s not enough,” Dossett said. “We need to do more.”

Dossett’s colleague, Sen. Cari Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, recently argued that lawmakers should increase school spending by another $2.1 billion.

SB 1067 passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 37-10 vote. The bill now proceeds to the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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