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Senate Leader Proposes Omnibus Education Funding Plan, Taps Tobacco, Highway Dollars for Public Schools

Oklahoma public schools could receive a budget increase of $110 million this year under an omnibus education funding program unveiled by the leader of the Oklahoma State Senate today. The plan by Senator Stratton Taylor would leverage existing state funds, money from the tobacco settlement and federal funds.

"With the funding that's currently available, we can't even cover the costs of the new students entering the public school system. The only way to give education a fighting chance this year is to explore each and every funding possibility, instead of throwing up our hands and admitting defeat prematurely," said Senator Taylor, President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

The Senate leader wants to tap several potential funding sources and allocate the revenue directly to the common education budget. For example:

  • Use federal highway funding to pay off state road construction bonds, freeing up additional state revenue for education. For example, $55 million in state funds currently earmarked for the road program could be redirected to the public schools next fiscal year. Other states such as Arkansas and New Mexico have taken similar actions, allowing them to fund bond projects with federal money and reserve state revenue for other purposes;

  • Allocate an annual percentage of the state tobacco settlement to education. Approximately 45% of the state¹s annual share would be earmarked for common education, amounting to $30 million next fiscal year alone. Several Senators made a similar proposal three weeks ago in announcing their plan to distribute tobacco money among education, children's, tobacco prevention and public health programs;

  • Devote the bulk of available new money to common education. Of the $29 million in new money already set aside for appropriation to the three branches of education next fiscal year, allocate $25 million to the common schools.

"If we really want to improve our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed, we have to think outside the box. For example, we're devoting millions of state dollars to retire the bonds on the road program when we could be using federal highway funds to do it. That money could be going to our public schools to reduce overcrowded classrooms or boost teacher pay," said Senator Taylor.

"If we pool available state and federal funds, we could give the public schools a sizable cash infusion," said Senator Taylor.

Under the program, the additional funding could be used for several school initiatives, such as:

  • Before and after school programs;
  • Teacher pay;
  • Class size reductions.

The share of tobacco money not appropriated to the common schools - approximately 55 percent of the annual take - would be available for use on children's initiatives, public health, smoking cessation and other programs, including a higher education bond issue.

"I think it's important to take a substantial amount off the top and pump it directly into the public schools. They'll get the helping hand they desperately need and we'll still have tobacco money left over to address children's programs, public health issues and possibly a capital improvement program for higher education," said Senator Taylor.

The Senate leader admitted it might be difficult to enact such a funding program in the final two weeks of the legislative session, but he insists it isn't impossible.

"I know it's late in the session, but that's no reason to sit on our hands. If we can find a way to deliver additional funding to the public schools, we should do it. If we run out of time, it should be at the top of the agenda next legislative session," said Senator Taylor.

For Oklahoma to reach the regional average in per pupil funding, common education would need an additional $450 million. For the state to reach the national average, it would take a $1 billion budget increase.

"We have a pretty tall hill to climb and it only gets taller every year. I'm committed to using every means possible to boost our education budget, if not this year than the next," said Senator Taylor.

Contact info
Senate Communications Division - (405) 521-5605