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Oklahoma budget agreement adds funds to public schools, colleges, CareerTech


Oklahoma budget agreement adds funds to public schools, colleges, CareerTech

May 24, 2024 | 3:37 pm ET
By Nuria Martinez-Keel
Oklahoma budget agreement adds funds to public schools, colleges, CareerTech
Students walk down the hall at Burroughs Elementary in Tulsa on April 8. A state budget agreement that the Oklahoma House, Senate and governor struck on Wednesday would increase funding for public schools, college facilities and CareerTech programs. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Legislature plans to boost funding for K-12 classrooms, college facilities and CareerTech programs in an education budget agreement nearing $5.6 billion.

The chief driver of public school funding, the education funding formula, would go up by $25 million in Fiscal Year 2025, should the agreement be signed into law.

This is expected to be the second consecutive increase to Oklahoma public school funding. Last year, lawmakers added $500 million to the funding formula, including $286 million in teacher pay raises, along with other multi-million-dollar initiatives.

The FY 2025 agreement, which lawmakers decided on Wednesday, sets the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s budget at $3.86 billion. On its face, it looks like a cut from the agency’s previous $3.97 billion appropriation, but the difference is accounted for in the way money for three-year pilot programs was spread over multiple fiscal years.

Not all legislative priorities made the final cut this year.

The state Senate pushed for a one-time stipend of $2,500 for all support staff working in public schools, like cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians. The House wasn’t on board with the $99.67 million expense.

Oklahoma budget agreement adds funds to public schools, colleges, CareerTech
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, speaks with reporters after reaching a budget agreement with the House and governor on Wednesday at the state Capitol. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

The $25 million increase to the funding formula was a compromise, said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

“We continued our record investment,” Treat said. “We didn’t let up the pedal on that.”

Last year’s education package included new funding for six weeks of teacher maternity leave. The budget agreement this year creates a revolving fund separate from the funding formula for maternity leave, with $2.5 million put into it annually and a one-time supplemental addition of $2.3 million.

The budget also dedicates funds for future teachers still attending college, with $2.65 million for paid student teaching and $8.5 million for the Inspired to Teach scholarship incentives.

The agreement also resolves a conflict between the House and Senate over an issue with last year’s educator pay raise.

The Legislature funneled money for teacher salary increases through the education funding formula, but about 40 school districts risked being left out. These districts earn enough in local tax revenue that they receive no state aid, meaning the funds for teacher pay raises wouldn’t reach them.

Leaders of the two legislative chambers disagreed on how to resolve the issue, but they settled on the House’s preference for a one-time fund of $16.1 million to reimburse the affected schools. As it stands now, the districts would have to come up with the funding themselves in future fiscal years once the one-time fund expires. 

Oklahoma budget agreement adds funds to public schools, colleges, CareerTech
House budget negotiators attend a public session on May 15 at the state Capitol. (Photo by Janelle Stecklein/Oklahoma Voice)

Lawmakers intend to put $240 million into new engineering and science facilities at the state’s two largest colleges, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. Other higher education institutions will get a piece of a $350 million fund dedicated to addressing deferred maintenance across multiple state agencies.

Treat said the budget agreement is “making sure we meet those needs” for improved maintenance.

“In our state, we’ve been good at building things,” Treat said. “We haven’t always been good about maintaining those. And so, it’s a lot easier to get support on cutting a ribbon than repairing an air conditioner unit.”

In an attempt to shorten waitlists and admit more students, the FY 2025 budget adds $27.6 million to meet the growing demand for courses at CareerTech centers. The agency informed lawmakers earlier this year its enrollment had grown by 9.5% and had a waitlist of about 7,400 students.

CareerTech state director Brent Haken requested extra funding to hire more instructors for high-demand vocational programs, which feed into the Oklahoma’s labor force.

“Some may see it as growing government,” Haken said of the request at a Feb. 14 meeting with a Senate budget subcommittee. “What I see it as is it’s growing Oklahoma. It’s growing our opportunity to do better in this state to recruit businesses. It’s growing opportunity for people to have great lives, to build hope in their lives and to raise their families.”