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State school superintendent asks for $2.6 billion for Oklahoma education

State schools superintendent Janet Barresi asked the joint Budget and Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning to increase the state education budget by nearly $300 million compared to last year.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: January 30, 2013

The state schools superintendent Tuesday asked Oklahoma lawmakers to spend nearly $300 million more on public education in the upcoming fiscal year, and for an immediate influx of nearly $38 million to cover unfunded programs this fiscal year.

State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi spoke before a joint budget subcommittee on education. She asked for $2.6 billion for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Last year, the state Education Department received about $2.3 billion.

Lawmakers are projected to have about $7 billion to dole out this year.

Barresi asked lawmakers to give the Education Department a $37.7 million supplemental appropriation to pay for programs that haven't been fully funded this year.

Members of the subcommittee questioned Barresi about a specific part of that request: $6.5 million to help young children read.

More than 1 in 3 Oklahoma third-graders aren't reading as well as they should be, and more than 1 in 10 are at least two years behind. Next year, many students who fall into that bottom group will have to repeat the third grade under the Reading Sufficiency Act.

The 2011 state law requires school districts to identify children who are significantly behind, contact their parents and work to fix the problem.

Children who can't catch up would have to spend another year in third grade.

Barresi requested the $6.5 million in supplemental funding because Reading Sufficiency programs are not funded by the state Board of Education.

School districts have been skating by on money the state Education Department had left over from the previous year.

That money is out, Barresi said, and waiting to fund those reading programs any longer could be disastrous for students who need extra help.

“It's absolutely critical that we bring this forward this semester,” she said. “This is one that is required to truly operate the program for the remainder of the year and meet our requirements under (the) Reading Sufficiency (Act).”

Committee members wanted to know if previous funding for Reading Sufficient Act programming was a line item.

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