State Board of Education members in a special meeting on Wednesday approved spending for the more than $2.4 billion education appropriation for fiscal year 2014. The budget includes $74 million more than last year.
The majority of the money, more than $1.8 billion, goes directly to school districts through the state’s funding formula to be used at the districts’ discretion. Another $540 million dollars is allotted to the state’s activities fund, which includes the flexible benefit allowance for school employee health insurance as well programs such as the GED adult education program, National Board Certified teacher bonuses, Ag in the Classroom and other initiatives.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi said this year’s activities fund includes earmarked amounts for implementation of state education reforms.
“This includes an increase to Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) remediation, funding for reading sufficiency, funding for Teacher and Leader Effectiveness and other supports for our schools,” Barresi said.
New to the budget this year is an item for Teach for America, a program that places teachers in high-risk schools to help improve performance among minorities and students in poverty. Also new is a $2.8 million competitive grant program to provide funding to private sector groups that have previously been awarded educational funds and to others that apply.
The State Education Department’s Chief of Staff Joel Robison told board members that state legislative leadership and the governor’s office approved the amounts specified for each program listed in the budget.
The board voted unanimously to allow for non-traditional routes to obtaining a special education teaching certificate in accordance with recently enacted House Bill 1233.
The board also approved guidance to allow the selection of providers of boot camp programs to offer the certifications. The action addresses a statewide special education teacher shortage.
Dr. Rene Axtell, Assistant State Superintendent of Special Education, explained that about 100 special education classrooms statewide have to rely on long-term substitute teachers, many who are not certified, because of the shortage.
Candidates for the boot camp programs will have earned any four-year degree from a higher education institution holding regional accreditation; have a Grade Point Average of 2.75 or higher; have a recommendation from a school district or a higher education institution; pass a national background check; commit to complete a master’s degree or certification in special education; and commit to remain with a district for at least three years after earning standard certification. Once accepted to the boot camp, the candidate will complete 150 hours in special education programs.
The board also unanimously adopted updates to special education policies. The updates include information related to the federal regulations and the four areas where Oklahoma has chosen to go above and beyond the federal regulations. Those four areas are: 1) the 45 school day timeline for evaluations; 2) secondary transition services to begin at the first Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting held during the ninth-grade year or by age 16, whichever comes first; 3) an IEP for move-in students must be in place within 10 school days; and 4) caseload/class-size requirements.
A procedures handbook detailing the new policies will be available by July 1.