Last week, I presented an overview of the Fiscal Year 2023 state budget, which takes effect on July 1. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be breaking down various areas within the budget to show how public dollars are being invested on behalf of our citizens.
This week, the topic is education. It’s one of our largest spends in the state of Oklahoma, with our Subcommittee on Education working tirelessly in this area. For FY 23, we will appropriate about $4.26 billion in the entire education budget – it’s by far the largest piece of the budget pie. If we look at our overall expenditure, education funding increased by about 11.6 percent this year.
Looking at just the common education portion of the budget, it is the single largest expenditure in state government. It increased by about $17 million this year, for a total of about $3.1 billion. I also want to talk about some of the additional investments we’ve made that I believe will make a positive difference in the lives of Oklahoma children. That includes an additional $9 million for alternative education, early intervention from birth through 36 months, reading sufficiency, and other programs aimed at improving student outcomes. We also are committed to taking care of our education employees, including adding some $17.8 million for health insurance benefits.
I have been asked why we didn’t appropriate even more to common education in this budget. What many people may not be aware of is that they’ve received an additional $2 billion from the federal government to help our schools in the wake of the pandemic. Common education received $600 million from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. They also received an additional $1.4 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that the State Department of Education is still working their way through, though from that, they’ve been able to allocate $30 million for counselors for our schools, a vital investment as we help Oklahoma’s children, many of whom were deeply impacted by the pandemic.
For the last few years, we’ve had an issue with recruiting and keeping teachers. This year, we have taken the first step in a five-year plan to invest $40 million in higher education in our teacher shortage employment incentive program. Our first investment this year was $17.3 million, which will help colleges and universities recruit education majors, assist those students with tuition and provide other financial incentives and resources to get more teachers back into the pipeline.
Also in higher education, we’re highlighting Oklahoma’s need to create a well-educated work force through investments in STEM, which includes courses and degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, adding about $11.5 million. If we want our citizens and our state to be able to compete on a national and global basis, as well as helping our state compete for the high-paying jobs that come with STEM companies, these are critical workforce investments.
In CareerTech, as in common education, we made additional investments in health insurance benefits. We’ve also invested $2.5 million to expand the skill centers and for drop-out recoveries. Our investments also address the need for those who’ve been incarcerated to gain the skills necessary to return to their communities and become productive citizens. They want and need to be able to learn these job skills, and we want them to succeed. This additional investment will make a tremendous difference in the lives of those individuals and our state as a whole.
Within the limited space of this article, we’ve only touched on three entities within our Education Subcommittee, but I really believe that this budget this year has addressed critical needs in education. It’s an investment in our citizens and our state that will pay dividends far into the future.
For more information, contact: Sen. Roger Thompson at 405-521-5588 or email Roger.Thompson@oksenate.gov.