With about 30 public school superintendents, teachers and students standing behind them, several Oklahoma House Democrats took Republican legislative leaders and the governor to task Wednesday for wanting to cut the personal income tax instead of putting that money toward public schools.
Funding for public schools, which makes up the largest percentage of the legislatively appropriated budget, has been cut nearly 20 percent the past five years, said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner. Enrollment in public schools has grown by about 20,000 students in the same time period, he said.
Public schools need about $24 million to pay the cost of health insurance for the remainder of this fiscal year, he said. Unfunded mandates will cost public schools about $13.5 million in the 2014 fiscal year. Earlier changes approved but not funded by lawmakers include better reading education and end-of-instruction exams in public schools.
Public schools received about $2.3 billion of the $6.8 billion legislatively appropriated budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
McPeak said public schools need about $118 million in the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, to provide a flat budget for public schools.
Joe Griffin, spokesman for House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said budget negotiators are close to reaching an agreement for the 2014 fiscal year budget.
“Common education is a priority and this budget will reflect that,” Griffin said.
A couple hours after House Democrats spoke, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines to cut the top personal income tax rate in 2015 and possibly another tax cut the next year.
Altogether, the cuts would cost the state about $237 million a year when both are fully implemented.
“That's money we need to be putting into education,” said Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City.
Floyd said businesses interested in moving to Oklahoma are more interested in an educated and skilled workforce and the quality of public schools for their employees than the personal income tax rates.