House Speaker pledge: No more than 5 percent cut to education

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Thursday, the Oklahoma Speaker of the House, Jeff Hickman, drew a line in the sand - the House will not support education cuts greater than five percent.

There have been two revenue failures at the Oklahoma State Capitol since the start of 2016.

Oklahoma school districts are left in a terrible position as they're trying to set their budget for next year without knowing just how much they will be cut.

Because the Department of Education suffered lower cuts than other state agencies, many school districts were bracing for giant cuts next year: 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent.

"Education is a priority," said Hickman during a briefing on Thursday. "The budget situation is serious. But, the position the house is taking, the position that we will not support any cuts to common education any greater than five percent. Our hope is that the number will be smaller."

A five percent cut is a $120 million slice out of the common ed bank account.

Senate leadership did not draw that same hard line but certainly seems to be on the same page.

"On the Senate side, we would want to see less than five percent," said the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Clark Jolley. "But, every time you leave education whole or you cut them less, you have to cut Medicaid. You have to cut mental health. You have to cut corrections. You have to cut public safety, and those are difficult areas to cut right now, because they've already sustained a lot."

About 50 districts around the state have made the move to a four-day week because of anticipated cuts.

State Superintendent of Schools believes a four-day week should be an absolute last resort.

"I do remain hopeful," said superintendent Joy Hofmeister. "I think that the announcement we heard in the house is a good indication the house appreciates having more information sooner than later."

Oklahoma has $1.3 billion less to build a budget.

Everyone in every area is feeling the squeeze that is expected to get worse.

The Senate and House usually pass a budget in May.

This year, the legislature is working with the Governor Fallin's office during the process to make sure everyone is on the same page and all interests are represented.

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