Oklahoma public schools that are struggling to pay higher heating bills, accommodate new student growth and implement a teacher pay program authorized last year received little or no help from Governor Keating in his executive budget, according to a State Senate budget leader.
Senator Cal Hobson noted that the Governor virtually ignored a number of bills that are coming due in public school classrooms, opting instead for a block grant approach that guarantees little or no new money for districts across the state.
"We have schools that have been hit with heating bills three times the normal size trying to decide how they're going to teach kids and heat their buildings at the same time. Many schools are attempting to perform that balancing act as they cope with record student enrollments that haven't been matched with state dollars," said Senator Hobson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
"I think it would make a lot more sense to pay all our classroom expenses up front before we launch yet another new program. A block grant approach may ultimately be the way to go, but not until we address the existing needs in our schools."
The Senate budget leader pointed to several pressing education needs that were not addressed in Governor Keating's budget proposal:
"It's particularly disappointing that Governor Keating ignored the needs of teachers. At a bare minimum, we need to fund last year's $3,000 pay raise for teachers and address their rising health insurance costs, but neither of those issues was on Governor Keating's budget radar screen," noted Senator Hobson.
"The only thing he offered teachers was the small glimmer of hope that maybe their district will win a block grant and maybe some of that money will trickle down to them and their classrooms. That's a lot of 'maybes' for teachers who have real needs to meet, both in the classroom and at home."
The Lexington legislator said he is confident that he can find common ground with Governor Keating on the issue of education funding and would be happy to meet with him to discuss the issue in detail.
"I'd like to sit down with the Governor and go over the list of school expenses line by line. Maybe he doesn't know how extensive they are or maybe there's some other angle to this that we haven't examined yet. I just think it's important for us to address this issue in a public forum," said Senator Hobson.