Briefs

Oklahoma State Department of Education makes uncommon ask for budget cut

By: - September 28, 2023 5:10 pm

The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday approved a $3.92 billion budget request for the 2025 fiscal year, slightly less than the agency's current funding level. (Photo by Brent Fuchs/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday made a rare request for a budget cut next year. 

The budget request on its face shows a $47 million reduction but most of the decrease comes from how pilot program expenditures are calculated over three years.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters proposed $4.2 million in true cuts to the agency.

The state Board of Education unanimously approved Walters’ $3.92 billion budget request during a meeting Thursday. State lawmakers will consider it in the 2024 legislative session when deciding the final state budget.

The primary source of public school state funding, the $2.96 billion that flows through the education funding formula, won’t be affected, budget documents show.

Walters said he intends to keep classroom funding and new investments from the state Legislature the same while eliminating other items from the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s annual budget. 

He cited inflation as a reason for reducing the agency’s budget.

“What we’re going to continue to do is to keep flat the investment in the classroom, but what we’re not going to do is just to continue to ask for more money every single year,” Walters said. “Money doesn’t equal results. It matters how you spend the money.”

Walters also proposed a new “Back to Basics” initiative that would set aside $60.55 million in agency funds to recruit tutors and to train teachers in reading, math and civics education. It would provide $2,000 to $5,000 bonuses for teachers and tutors who drive growth in reading and math scores.

Civics training could involve resources from the conservative media entity PragerU and other partnerships, Walters said.

PragerU ‘pro-America’ lessons encouraged in Oklahoma schools

The initiative also would offer $10 million in signing bonuses to 350 new math and reading teachers. Each could receive $25,000 if they commit to work five years in an Oklahoma school. 

The agency created a similar signing bonus program this year that attracted about 530 new certified teachers.

Copies of budget documents that state board members reviewed before voting on the request specify only four line items with reduced funding, worth $4.2 million.

Oklahoma Teach for America’s $2 million budget would be eliminated under Walters’ proposal. The program has placed recent college graduates in low-income and underserved Oklahoma schools since 2009, but the number of annual placements has gradually declined over the past decade.

The budget would eliminate another $2 million by removing all funding for the online learning programs Imagine Math and Imagine Reading.

Funds dedicated to bonuses for teachers who become National Board Certified would decrease by $220,000, reducing the money available to $250,000.

“We appreciate the direction of funds in education, but we’re not just going to come back in and beat that number every year and come up with programs that we don’t feel like there’s (return on investment) on,” Walters said.

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Nuria Martinez-Keel
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.

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