The Oklahoma State Board of Education today approved a $2.5 billion fiscal year 2015 budget request for the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). Representing a $174.9 million increase over last year, the proposal will go before the state Legislature when it convenes in February.
The budget requests an $81.4 million increase in financial support for schools, part of $1.9 billion overall in the State Aid Funding Formula.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said the budget addresses a number of academic and financial challenges facing Oklahoma schools.
“This budget is responsible, realistic and takes an important step forward in connecting new funds to proven performance,” she said. “Adequate funding is critical to a sound education, of course, but money itself is not a cure-all. Oklahomans must know their tax dollars are being invested wisely in schools.”
To that end, the budget request sets aside 20 percent of the new funds – about $16 million — to reward schools that show academic improvement among a large student population on free and reduced lunches.
“This is a way to recognize and build on the successes of the many schools in our state that are rising to significant challenge. Through innovation, tenacity and a commitment to excellence, these teachers, administrators and parents are working hard to ensure a bright future for the next generation of Oklahomans.”
Barresi urged district superintendents to use part of the new funds to increase teacher pay.
“There is no question that inadequate teacher salaries are a big reason we lose many of our best and brightest educators to other states,” she said.
The funding request includes $593.5 million for the activities budget, an $86.4 million increase over FY 2014. That figure reflects how Oklahoma schools are continuing their shift toward stronger academic standards and heightened expectations, providing $69 million for the implementation of various reforms.
That amounts to a $26 million increase in reform spending over last year.
In the wake of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance costs are taking a significant portion of the would-be budget.
“As is proving to be the case throughout the nation, the consequences of Obamacare are severe and painful. Millions of dollars that could have gone to the classroom instead must be eaten up in insurance costs,” Barresi said.
OSDE is requesting a flexible benefit allowance budget of $426.9 million in FY 2015, a $59 million increase over last year. More costly premiums and an increase of fulltime, insured school employees are responsible for the requested increase.