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Oklahoma education board approves $2.38 billion budget

The Associated Press Published: June 29, 2010
Oklahoma's Board of Education approved a $2.38 billion budget Tuesday that the state superintendent said endangers education reforms implemented during the past two decades.

The board voted unanimously to approve the budget for fiscal year 2011, which starts Thursday, although Betsy Mabry of Enid noted members did so with "no smiles on our faces."

The state Department of Education received about $196.4 million — or about 7.6 percent — less than the current fiscal year. State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said state education officials tried to prioritize "teaching and learning" as they worked to balance the budget.

The state will be able to help school districts pay for increases in employees' health insurance costs going forward. But staff development and academic achievement awards programs, among others, will be cut or delayed into future years, saving $7.8 million and $4.97 million, respectively.

"You've got to take care of the children and you've got to take care of the teachers," Garrett said. "The rest of us don't count that much. That was our focus."

While preparing the state budget, legislative leaders and Gov. Brad Henry had about $1.2 billion less to spend for the upcoming fiscal year than the current one, although they pledged education was a priority.

Garrett said the state Department of Education didn't receive line-item appropriations for specific programs from the Legislature, as the agency had in the past, leaving her and other agency officials to grapple with which programs would be cut and by how much. That didn't sit well with board member Tim Gilpin of Tulsa, who said the Legislature abdicated its responsibility and produced a "faux budget," leaving the "dirty work" for the board.

"Our priority is not education is what they're saying," said Gilpin, who predicted the funding cuts would cause teachers to leave the state and force children to use old textbooks and deal with larger class sizes.

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said in a statement that the Legislature "minimized cuts to public schools" and noted other agencies had budgets "slashed by as much as 15 percent."

Benge said legislators didn't make line-item appropriations "so the Oklahoma State Board of Education would have the flexibility to preserve existing programs and reforms while finding efficiencies.

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