Even with a promise from state lawmakers that funding for schools will remain flat, the State Board Of Education met Friday in a special meeting to make budget cuts of its own. And those cuts run deep.
"There is a painful reality," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, " And that is what this meeting is really all about."
The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved $38.2 million in mandated cuts to a line item called Support of Public School Activities.
Also known as the Public School Activities Fund, its appropriation was reduced from $130 million last year to $92 million for Fiscal Year 2017.
Support of Public School Activities provides line-item support for an array of initiatives ranging from professional development to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.
Funding for programs such as the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System and SoonerStart must be set aside to meet statutory, state matching and maintenance of effort requirements. That left the State Board to make hard decisions on budgetary recommendations made by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE).
“These are very difficult cuts to make, but they are unavoidable in light of the reduced budget for the Public Schools Activities Fund,” said Hofmeister. “We have made every effort to spare as much as we can in light of the significant size of this mandated cut, and we certainly recognize the importance of these fine programs. In the end, however, we have no option given this year’s historic revenue shortfall.”
Out of 28 programs identified in the line item, the State Board of Education approved the elimination of funding for 11 and reduced funding for 13 others.
“As challenging as these cuts were to make, I am particularly grateful that the Board shares my commitment to such priorities as SoonerStart, alternative education, the early childhood initiative, early literacy and academic standards implementation,” Hofmeister said.
Alicia Priest with the Oklahoma Education Association added," But here's our reality. Children. Our students, are the real casualties of this financial crisis."