Senate Appropriations Chairman Johnnie Crutchfield (D-Ardmore) said today, Speaker Hiett needs to take his own party’s advice and “Fund Education First” rather than point his finger at the State Senate.
“We passed an historic education appropriations bill more than two weeks ago, two days before the ‘Fund Education First’ deadline, while the Speaker played politics and refused to sign on to an agreement that passed unanimously by both parties in the Senate,” Crutchfield said.
Instead of considering the Senate legislation and sending it to the Governor by the March 16 “Fund Education First” deadline, the House passed a general appropriations bill containing a fatally flawed common education budget.
The Senator explained the House bill does not contain necessary funding to operate the State Department of Education. Without that funding, Crutchfield said, the agency will have to shut down and won’t be able to calculate and allocate the state aid included in the bill, meaning school districts will never get their state aid.
“For some districts, state aid is 70 to 80 percent of their total budget. When those school boards fail to receive state aid from the State Department of Education, thousands of teachers will be laid off while millions of dollars in state funding sits on a shelf and collects dust,” Crutchfield said. “I don’t want the responsibility of telling Oklahoma taxpayers their schools will have to close their doors because I signed on to Speakers Hiett’s bill that clearly doesn’t provide the necessary funding for education.”
Likewise, the bill omits identified funding for the State Regents for Higher Education, who provides and oversees funding of the state’s colleges and universities.
Worst of all, Crutchfield said, the House GA bill supplants existing higher education funding with lottery money, which is a direct contradiction to the Constitutional provision passed by voters in November.
The House GA bill, which includes $28 million in new funds from the state lottery, funds Higher Education at $809 million, just a $7 million increase over last years budget.
“In effect, the House GA bill cuts the Higher Education budget by $20 million and then replaces that funding with proceeds from the Oklahoma Education Lottery,” Crutchfield said. “That is supplanting funds. It violates Section 41 of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The ink is barely dry on this constitutional provision approved by voters in November and already they want to ignore it.”
Crutchfield said Oklahoma legislators must act responsibly to enact a budget that meets the needs of Oklahoma’s best and brightest citizens – its school children.