Oklahoma Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman and Senate Appropriations & Budget Committee Chairman Clark Jolley said they were surprised by comments from Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in her news release regarding school textbook funding today.
“The Legislature put $33 million dollars previously line itemed for textbooks into the state-aid funding formula so schools can make spending decisions at the local level based on their own unique needs,” said Hickman (R-Fairview). “Education leaders, including Superintendent Hofmeister, made it clear to us this session that schools wanted more money directed through the funding formula so schools will have more discretion and flexibility. The funds didn’t go away. Schools are still receiving the money that would have been line itemed for textbooks, but now they have greater discretion to use those dollars for more pressing needs at the local level or to buy new textbooks.”
Jolley (R-Edmond) said the funding shift shows the Legislature is trying to meet the needs of the schools as they have been stated for years.
“Our schools have been crying out for more money to be placed in the formula for several years in a row,” Jolley said. “When I asked the leadership of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association if it would be more important for these funds to be in textbooks or the formula, I was told the formula gave the greatest flexibility to districts. I'm surprised about the Superintendent's release because we specifically discussed the shifting of funding from the textbook area to the formula and was told how important it was to place those funds in the funding formula, where districts have the most flexibility on how they be used.”
In addition to sending previously earmarked textbook dollars to local schools to be spent in the area of greatest need, Hickman pointed to legislation which was also passed this session to relieve schools from the mandates associated with textbook spending.
“The Legislature passed Senate Bill 933, a measure that frees schools from mandated spending on textbooks, so if a school’s textbooks are adequate, they can use those dollars for other areas of need,” said Hickman. “In a year when lawmakers had $1.3 billion less to build a budget, we diligently sought and found ways to hold common education’s budget flat when other agencies were receiving large cuts which Superintendent Hofmeister recently praised as a 'Herculean effort'. ”
Protecting school funding during this historic oil bust and getting as many dollars as possible directly into classrooms was one of the top priorities for Republican budget leaders in the Senate and House.
“The Legislature forced numerous other state agencies to absorb millions of dollars in cuts so common education would not have to see any further reductions past those made in the FY'16 budget year,” Jolley said. “By shifting these resources within the common education budget, we are trying to make sure that the classrooms get more direct funding.”