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.
Barresi said no.
“It was appropriated under the activity budget,” she said. “The state Board of Education does the budgeting around that. Long story short, we were not able to meet that $6.5 million requirement.”
This year, the Board of Education had $462 million available in the activities fund. Barresi said programs governed by federal and state law get funded first.
If the Education Department does receive the extra funding, money would be parceled out to school districts, which would have to use at least part of it on summer reading programs, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department said.
Leaders eye 2010 levels
If the overall proposed Education Department budget of $2.6 billion is fully funded, it would raise per-pupil funding to the same level as 2010, Barresi said.
Oklahoma schools reported nearly 10,000 more students this fall than at the end of the last school year, a state Education Department spokeswoman said.
Barresi said the bulk of growth has been seen in the western part of Oklahoma, because of the energy industry.
Barresi said the “heart of the budget” would fund reform measures, such as state-mandated end-of-instruction exams for high school students.
Rep. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, asked Barresi what her top priorities were if her budget couldn't be fully funded.
First is money for school districts, Barresi said.
After that: implementing the newly enacted reforms.
The following funding requests are the largest in Barresi's proposal:
Cash for local schools: $2 billion, which is up $235 million from last year.
School activities, such as reading and robotics: $508 million, up $46 million.
Health insurance for school workers: $368 million, up $24 million.
Instructional materials: $35 million, up $2 million.
Teacher retirement: $35 million, the same as last year.
Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau