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Lawmakers considering tapping Rainy Day Fund to prevent further cuts to education

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OKLAHOMA CITY – School districts across Oklahoma are combing through their budgets, trying to find areas to cut in order to make it through the end of the school year.

The state budget crisis deepened last week when officials announced another 4 percent cut to agencies across the board.

Public schools alone will have nearly $110 million cut from their budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Districts said it is money that they had already budgeted for this year to pay for day-to-day supplies and necessary items, like teacher contracts.

Now, some lawmakers want to tap into the Rainy Day Fund to get school districts through the end of the 2016 school year.

“We’ve got this pool in the Rainy Day Fund of hundreds of millions of dollars, and you can save it for this next fiscal year, this $1.3 billion shortfall, and that’s not a bad idea, but we also have this current crisis facing schools in my district, facing schools across the state,” said Sen. David Holt.

The Senate could get something worked out by the end of this week.

Governor Fallin’s spokesperson told NewsChannel 4 Monday:

“Governor Fallin has been protective of using the Rainy Day Fund because it is Oklahoma’s main fiscal safety net. The governor will continue to urge a cautious approach to the Rainy Day Fund as she discusses that option and others with legislators. It will be important to determine whether the Rainy Day Fund is needed the most this year, next year or the year after because all are shaping up to be highly challenging as a result of the prolonged energy industry downturn,” said Communications Director Michael McNutt.

A few hours later, Fallin made an official proposal to use the Rainy Day Fund to partially offset the budget cuts to education and the Department of Corrections.

The governor suggested using $51 million for public schools and $21 million for the Department of Corrections.

Currently, the Rainy Day Fund has $385 million, but only $144.4 million is available to address the 2016 fiscal year revenue failure.

“Four-day school weeks and draconian cuts at prisons are not acceptable and are not going to happen. The deepened revenue failure cuts have changed the budget situation in a way that requires immediate action, so I support accessing the Rainy Day Fund for common education and prisons,” Fallin said Monday afternoon. “This is the most responsible option available today to keep vital state services at acceptable levels until the Legislature and I reach agreement on the recurring revenues necessary to fund these services in the long run. We must put recurring revenues on the table this session, like I proposed in my executive budget, or we will be having this same problem next year, the year after that and years after that. The Rainy Day Fund option is a one-time fix, but we need to do the tough work to establish a permanent fix in the budget we pass this session.”