I remember what it was like as a child preparing to ask my parents for a raise in my allowance. I was asking them to part with their hard-earned money, and I just knew I would get that lecture on spending wisely and the importance of saving. I spent a lot of time rehearsing the reasons why such a raise was necessary; then I screwed up my courage and hoped for the best.
Asking the State Legislature for an increase in funding for common education is even more daunting. We need money to carry on the important work of preparing students for their future. As our student population grows and the materials they use to learn become more sophisticated, i.e. more expensive, it only makes sense that we would need more money each year. We also have a robust reform agenda that requires funding to be able to fully implement. Still, we have to be able to justify every penny we spend of taxpayer dollars.
Next week I will be talking to a joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee about our next year’s budget request. I also will be asking for $37.7 million in supplemental appropriations for use by school districts this year.
The largest piece of this supplemental funding request is $15 million to fully fund Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) remediation. Last year was the first year that Oklahoma high school seniors had to prove proficient on four of seven end-of-instruction tests in order to graduate. When students fall short of proficiency on these state tests, it is mandated that schools provide remediation. Last year, we were appropriated only about 1/3 of what was needed for remediation. This supplement would ensure we are doing everything possible to graduate students fully prepared for the rigors of college and the workforce. In the long-run, having an educated and skilled workforce and literate citizens benefits all of society.
I’m also asking for $6.5 million in supplemental appropriations for Reading Sufficiency. The Legislature did not fund this last year, yet we are moving toward full implementation of this reform in the 2013-14 school year. By the end of that year, every third-grader must be reading on grade level before being promoted to fourth grade. We know that by the end of third grade, students transition from dependent to independent learning. We cannot wait until third grade to recognize these students, however. A good portion of this funding will be spent on helping children who are struggling in early grades, before they fall behind in reading. If we have a student performing unsatisfactory in reading in third grade that means they really are reading at a first-grade level at best. If we don’t help them, they will only grow more frustrated as they continue to move through the school system and will be at greater risk of dropping out of school.
My supplemental funding request also includes:
• $8.5 million to fully fund the flexible health benefits allowance for state educators for the remainder of this fiscal year;
• $5.9 million for school formula funding to bring the student funding factor up to the level it was at the end of last school year to account for student growth, and
• $1.8 million additional funding for the state's Student Longitudinal Data System and technology needs in the State Department of Education to help in fully implementing reforms.
In addition to supplemental funding, I’m asking the Legislature to grant an additional $289 million in the fiscal year 2014 common education budget. With this increase, I hope school superintendents will consider using a good portion of this money to increase teacher pay in their districts.
We all know that teachers are worth much more than they earn. We also know that one of the most important factors in student success is having an effective teacher in the classroom.
Wish me well as I make my plea next week for this funding. If we can get more money into Oklahoma classrooms, I know we will all enjoy the long-term benefits of student success.