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The Daily Ardmoreite
  • Senate approves plan dedicating additional $600 million for schools

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  • The full Senate has approved legislation that will ultimately increase public school funding by $600 million annually. Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, and Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, are Senate authors of House Bill 2642, the Securing Educational Excellence Fund (SEEF). The measure was approved unanimously on Wednesday.
     
    “We recognize the need for additional resources for Oklahoma schools. This plan is a fiscally responsible way to generate an additional $600 million annually that will go directly into the school funding formula,” Halligan said. “This bill is an important step in helping Oklahoma students get the quality education they need to compete and to succeed.”
     
    HB 2642 directs a dedicated appropriation of $30 million in fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014. That amount would then increase by $30 million each year through FY ’18. In FY ’19, the ROAD Fund will reach its statutory maximum of $575 million, freeing an additional $60 million which can then be dedicated to SEEF.
     
    In order to address concerns about an additional off-the-top earmark, the plan includes triggers for the specified increases:
     
    • FY ’16 – ’18 funds would only be added if there is growth of at least one percent in General Revenue (GR).
    • FY ’19 – GR growth of one percent would trigger $30 million, two percent would trigger the full $60 million.
    • If GR funds decline, there will be no additional allocation to SEEF until the previous high in GR is exceeded.
     
    In addition, the measure has safeguards that will prevent SEEF funds from taking the place of additional appropriations—Halligan noted that had occurred with the lottery funds that were supposed to have dramatically increased education funding. HB 2642 requires the State Board of Equalization to find that the funds are not supplanted, meaning they can’t take the place of previous appropriations.
     
    Ford, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the goal is to make sure the additional funds actually are used in the classroom, directly benefiting Oklahoma students.
     
    “We know we have to increase the number of students who complete high school and make sure when they graduate they have mastered the skills they need to do well in college without remediation, or in CareerTech, or in the workforce,” Ford said. “This legislation will help provide the resources we need to do that.”
     
    The authors said achieving those goals would require more time in the classroom, noting the cost for adding an additional day of instruction would be about $22 million. The measure requires for every additional $60 million, one day of instruction will be added.
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    Rep. Lee Denney chairs the House Appropriations and Budget Common Education Subcommittee and is the House author of HB 2642. She said work would likely continue on the bill in conference committee, but said she was extremely encouraged by the Senate’s passage of the legislation.
     
    “This brings us one step closer to enacting a plan resulting in a meaningful long-term investment in our public schools,” said Denney, R-Cushing. “We support our schools and the dedicated educators who are working in classrooms throughout the state to give Oklahoma students the best future possible.”
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