A plan to ramp up state funding of public schools at the expense of Oklahoma’s road and bridge improvement program was approved Wednesday by the state Senate Appropriations Committee.
“What they voted on in there would annihilate the governor’s bridge program,” complained Bobby Stem, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of General Contractors.
State Sen. Mike Mazzei disagreed, calling it a “slight adjustment” in transportation funding that is designed to help the Legislature “balance out” its funding priorities.
The proposal calls for education funding to be increased at the rate of $29.85 million a year, until public schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now. Funding then would level off at the higher level. Increases would halt in years where the state fails to experience 1 percent growth in general fund revenues.
The extra funding would come at the expense of the state Transportation Department, which would be required to give up half of the $59.7 million increase in extra money it has been getting annually to improve roads and bridges. The Transportation Department’s extra funding is scheduled to level off once it reaches $575 million more a year than when the department began receiving increases in 2006.
State Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater, authored the new education funding proposal as part of a committee substitute for House Bill 2642. The substitute bill passed the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 20-3 and will now go to the full Senate.
Halligan replaced language in the original House Bill 2642, authored by House member Lee Denney, R-Cushing. The old bill called for education funding increases that were even more aggressive — going up at the rate of $57.5 million a year until total extra annual funding reached $575 million. Denney’s bill would have decreased the amount available to the Legislature for appropriation to other agencies, but would not have taken money from funds set aside for roads and bridges.
Halligan said he amended the bill in cooperation with Denney to give it a better chance of making it through the Legislature.
“I am absolutely committed to trying to find some way to give additional funds for common education,” Halligan said.
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and the United Suburban Schools Association issued a joint statement praising the measure.
“We agree with Sen Mike Mazzei that House Bill 2642 provides a balanced approach for the legislature to secure long-term financial support for state transportation projects and our state’s schools,” the statement said. “The bill faces many more procedural hurdles prior to becoming law which gives us plenty of time to address the concerns of legislators that voted no on House Bill 2642, but want to provide additional financial resources to our public schools.”