A decrease in state revenue collections means state agencies will have to meet increasing needs for services with fewer funds. Next session, as lawmakers work to draft a budget for the 2011 fiscal year that begins July 1, they will have an estimated $5.29 billion to divvy up. The starting point for the state’s budget hasn’t been that low since the 2005 fiscal year when the budget was $5.36 billion. While the state’s revenues have decreased, the need for services hasn’t dropped. Enrollment at public schools and colleges has increased. The number of people on food stamps and enrolled in state-sponsored health insurance has also increased over the past four years. Fall enrollment at public universities across the state swelled by 5.8 percent this year. During the school year that began in 2004, the enrollment at public colleges was 238,245, according to figures from the State Regents for Higher Education. With fall enrollment at an all-time high, the numbers are expected to be even larger for the 2009-10 school year, said Ben Hardcastle, spokesman for the regents. Final enrollment numbers will be available once spring enrollment figures come in.
Tuition increasesWhile some states battling a budget crunch have raised tuition rates, there are legislative limits on tuition increases in Oklahoma. Earlier this year, California’s board of regents voted to increase tuition by 32 percent amid a statewide budget crunch. The number of students being served by state’s common education system has also grown rapidly since the last time Oklahoma was working with a $5 billion state budget. In the past six years, the number of children enrolled in the state’s public education system has increased by 25,377 to 654,511. The number of students increased by 10,000 last year alone, according to figures from the state Department of Education. "Schools are going to have an extremely difficult time providing services in this budget climate,” said Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration. "It looks like its going to be a very tough year for schools. The size of the cuts they are forced to make are going to require districts to lay people off.”
Food stampsA deep recession is making the need for some services such as food stamps or subsidized health care more necessary. The number of people on food stamps has skyrocketed. In November, 561,111 people — about a sixth of the state’s population — were on food stamps. That number surpasses the previous record set in December 2005 when 443,045 people were on food stamps, said Mary Leaver, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services. "We’re trying to make cuts that don’t impact people,” Leaver said. "But this is happening when we’re seeing an unprecedented demand for our services.” Officials at the Oklahoma Health Care Authority are also seeing the number of people apply for services such as Medicaid and SoonerCare increase, said Nico Gomez, spokesman for the Health Care Authority. Since 2004, enrollment has increased 27.7 percent to 676,590. Like the Department of Human Services, the Health Care Authority receives a substantial amount of federal funds to help the program. Gomez said the authority is already limiting some services to clients — such as the availability of brand name prescription drugs — to cut its budget. "We start every conversation with, ‘Is there a way to get there doing the least harm to the people we serve?’” Gomez said. "We’ll continue to try to find savings that do the least harm.”