Funding education

Michael Smith
The Oklahoma State Capitol in 2015. Joint committee hearings this month will analyze budget requests from education agencies before the legislature convenes in February.

With the Oklahoma Legislature less than a month from reconvening, some lawmakers in both chambers will begin preparing this week with a series of joint budget hearings regarding education spending in the state. In total, 11 hearings will be held this month to analyze budget requests from various state agencies.

“Education receives the lion’s share of the state budget, so it is important that we delve into each agency that gets appropriations under the covering of education,” said Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore), chairman of the House Appropriations; Budget Subcommittee on Education. Last year, the legislature approved a $8.3 billion budget that saw more than half of total state spending go towards education.

McBride’s subcommittee will join its Senate counterpart beginning on Wednesday to review fiscal year 2021 budget requests. The hearings will continue each week through Jan. 30. Among the requests to be reviewed will be a requested 7.2% funding increase for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. According to OSDE Superintendent Joy Hofmeister in October, the requested increase could end a class size moratorium on kindergarten and first grade.

A 15.6% funding increase for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education will also be reviewed. “The increased funding sought by our 25 colleges and universities and constituent agencies will be deployed in critical areas, such as STEM workforce development,” said Joseph L. Parker, Jr., chairman of the State Regents for Higher Education.

“There are few things as important as education when it comes to ensuring our children are ready for life and a future career,” McBride said. “We must ensure our dollars are being spent in ways that improve learning outcomes in areas like reading, math and other subjects, so they exit our schools ready to go to work and improve their own lives and our Oklahoma communities.”

The 57th Oklahoma Legislature will convene for the second regular session on Feb. 3.