Education funding is Oklahoma’s largest expense and after COVID-19 caused state budget cuts to schools, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister returned to the Capitol Monday asking for that money back.
The State Department of Education is asking for a $200 million increase to the state education budget. However, Hofmeister said more than half of that is making up for ground lost last year.
In coming up with the current budget, $110 million of state money was cut out of a nearly $3-billion K though 12 education budget.
“We’ve asked for that to be restored,” Hofmeister said. “We know the needs far exceed that, but this is the first step to being able to reduce class-sizes, provide for more counselors in our schools and give reading support and we know many of our children are going to need in the coming year.”
Federal COVID-19 relief funds filled the current year’s multi-million-dollar state education gap, insolating schools from the budget cut.
However, Hofmeister said following the pandemic, increased funding for one-on-one attention is going to be critical to help students who have fallen behind.
“The needs are growing for our youngest learners in terms of reading and the support that’s going to be needed for the future years,” she said. “And that’s what we’re taking care of today; after the pandemic.”
It’s estimated half of Oklahoma first and second graders are at risk of falling behind national reading standards.
In an area often targeted for cuts, the budget request includes $60 million for new science textbooks, the state’s most expensive subject matter.
"This is the year that those are up for adoption by schools so there will be state level contracts at a reduced rate and those contracts last for six years,” Hofmeister said. “If districts don’t get in on that right now then they’ll have to wait another six years to take advantage of that.”