Tuesday, May 1, 2018

K-12 Schools and Teachers Benefit in State Budget; By State Rep. John Bennett

The governor this week signed the state budget, which includes $2.9 billion for K-12 schools for Fiscal Year 2019.

This is the largest education budget ever passed in the state, surpassing the previous high water mark of $2.5 billion in 2009. Accounting for the rate of inflation, that budget today would be $2.86 billion, so we’ve even exceeded that.

This budget includes funding for the state’s largest teacher pay raise, giving an average raise of $6,100 to each teacher in the state and $1,250 for school support staff beginning in the 2018-19 school year and carrying into the future. The teacher pay raises move Oklahoma teachers to second in the region for average annual pay, only $400 below Texas, and to 12th in the nation when accounting for the cost of living.

Also included in the education budget is $24.7 million for additional health care benefits, and an additional $50 million for textbooks and classroom support through the school funding formula.

In addition to this budget for common education, I co-authored an amendment to a bill that secured an additional $19.5 million for the 1017 education support fund for FY19 and $20.5 million in subsequent years. This money goes to public schools and can be used for items such as textbooks, classroom supplies and instructional materials as well as other school expenses. 

The Legislature also approved $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment, allowing high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit without paying the high cost of college tuition, hopefully resulting in early college graduation.

I’ve always been a supporter of adequately funding our state’s public schools and paying our teachers a competitive and fair raise. I just differed with some of my more moderate and liberal colleagues on how to pay for those raises. I’ve long insisted that we cannot tax our way to prosperity, and I stand by that belief. Instead, I’ve worked to find savings and efficiencies in state agencies and root out waste, fraud and abuse. I’ve also suggested plenty of other measures that would have resulted in enough money to properly fund state schools and give our teachers raises. I pray such efforts will continue in the Legislature after my term is finished. 

With this budget, education will receive more than 50 percent of all state appropriations.

Other needs, such as health and mental health care, public safety and transportation as well as many others will receive the rest of the $7.6 billion state budget.

While it’s important for the state to adequately fund public schools, it’s also important for local school boards and school administrators to make the best decisions on how to spend the money they are allocated. The first priority should be to make sure students have adequate textbooks, desks and other materials to be successful academically. 

John Bennett represents Oklahoma House District 2. He can be reached at (405) 557-7315 or John.Bennett@okhouse.gov.

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