Thursday, March 10, 2016

Rainy Day Funds One Step Closer to Boosting School Budgets

Gov. Mary Fallin, Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and House Speaker Jeff Hickman Thursday announced an agreement to use about $78.5 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to partially offset budget cuts to common education and corrections for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Sequoyah County school superintendents are hoping they receive the rainy day funds to help offset major state aid funding cuts, which are forcing the schools to not fill teacher positions and consider cutting programs. But several Sequoyah County school administrators said this week that the rainy day funds will only help offset the cuts to the flex benefit allowance that helps pay for insurance.

Under the agreement, the Department of Education is to receive $51 million and the Department of Corrections (DOC) is to receive $27.5 million.

Fallin said, "All of us can agree that four-day school weeks and draconian cuts to corrections are not acceptable and are not going to happen. This is the most responsible option available to keep vital state services for education and corrections going between now and the end of June when this fiscal year ends.”

Bingman said: “The Rainy Day Fund is there for emergencies and right now it’s pouring in Oklahoma. Tapping the Rainy Day Fund is the right way to lessen the impact of these cuts on students and teachers, and prevents dramatic cuts at prisons. I appreciate the governor and speaker for working with the Senate on a plan to help protect these core functions of government.”

Hickman said: "Last year we had $611 million less to build our budget than the year before and we didn’t cut funding for our public schools. That meant higher cuts to other agencies in order to not cut education, but protecting education as a priority was the tough decision the Republican leadership of this state made. This agreement today builds on the commitment to the students in schools across our state, as well as on our commitment to public safety and ensuring a safe Oklahoma."

Legislation authorizing the withdrawal of the Rainy Day Fund money should be completed next week.

"This agreement will be of great help for schools already facing serious budget challenges due to the economic downturn, “ said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “Thanks to the quick and decisive action of the governor and Republican legislative leadership, it is our hope that districts will not have to take such drastic measures as a four-day school week.”

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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