Lawmakers expect to miss education funding deadline

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OKLAHOMA CITY – They call it a deadline, but it clearly doesn’t mean much to legislators at the capitol.

Apr. 1 is technically the deadline to pass an education budget – that’s the law.

But, the lawmakers have never really followed it.

“It’s coming up real soon,” said Rep. Scott Martin (R-Norman), describing the deadline his chamber almost certainly won’t meet. “And, I think, since that has been put into place, it’s only been met one time unfortunately.”

The law was passed in 2003.

But, now, advocacy groups want to see it followed.

There don’t appear to be consequences for missing the deadline, and House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) said he’s focused on another deadline.

“It’s obviously more important to get the appropriation and the full budget picture identified” by session’s end in May, he said. “We have always protected common education in our budget scenarios, in the bad times and also in the tough times.”

Times haven’t been much tougher for schools.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told the House Budget and Appropriations Subcommittee on Education students will suffer even if the budget remains flat.

“We have growing class sizes, growing student population. Our students have great needs and are increasingly diverse learners, and all this amid a teacher shortage,” she said. “So, every dollar matters.”

But, even Hofmeister seemed unconcerned about the legislature missing another deadline.

She trusts lawmakers will find a solution by the end of May.

“We know that education is a priority,” she said. “When we have a revenue failure and a shortfall, it’s very important that our legislators spend the time that’s needed to get it right.”

Gov. Mary Fallin seemed less patient during a mid-session news conference Thursday afternoon, where she again described teacher pay raises as being at the top of her agenda.

“We can’t just keep putting these things off and expecting them to resolve themselves, because they won’t,” she told reporters. “We’re halfway through the legislative session, and we need to get down to business. It’s time.”

The Governor said she would be open to a special or a concurrent session if the issue is not resolved.

Fallin said she appreciated the efforts of Democrats, who have come up with their own plan to finance pay raises and plug the budget hole.

Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) used his weekly news conference to blast the Republican leadership.

“Our caucus is growing ever more frustrated with the inaction from the majority party,” he said. “It is clear to all of us in the legislature that the Republican majority does not have a plan to meet the statutorily required date of April 1 to present a budget for public schools in the state of Oklahoma. There appears to be no sense of urgency on behalf of the Republican majority to try to find revenues to truly balance the budget.”

But, McCall said budget and education funding meetings have been productive.

He expects his caucus to unveil a plan in the next week or two.

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