Oklahoma House and Senate differ on education funding increases

Oklahoma Politics

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A budget battle is in progress at the State Capitol. The House of Representatives and Senate Republicans are battling over how much more money education should receive.

House Republicans called for a Joint Budget meeting this morning but the Senate is not playing ball. The sticking point – both sides want to put more money in education, but how much? Some say too much has consequences.

“We have agreement probably on 96-97 percent of points throughout the budget,” said Sen. Roger Thompson.

But the 3-4 being disputed over percent is reportedly about education spending. House Republicans released a statement last week saying they want to increase state spending by close to $140 million to trigger a state law that would then limit class sizes in kindergarten and first grade. House Democrats agree, saying they want to put $200 million more in education.

“It will kick-start the long-term investment we need to help bring our public schools to the regional average in spending,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano.

House Democrats are also calling for increases in school counselor numbers to deal with mental health issues brought on by the pandemic.

But Senate leaders have different ideas. They say their budgets gives more than $60 million for new science textbooks and that state education budgets are already much bigger thanks to hundreds of million in federal pandemic dollars. They say if the class size cap is triggered, finding more instructors in a teacher shortage could be tough.

“We are very interested in funding public education, we just want to make sure we are doing it the right way. Can we attract those teachers? Will they be there if we have mandated the schools to do that?” said Thompson.

House Democrats laid out their entire budget on Tuesday.

“We are proud to say, we are investing in Oklahomans while also making sure that they get to keep more of their hard-earned money,” said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin.

Democrats want to bring back the refundable earned income tax credit. They want to do away with sales tax on groceries, stop funding district attorney’s offices with fines and fees and create a tax deduction for unemployment payments during the pandemic.

“Our budget outlook is much better than many expected, so why not take this opportunity to put money into the hands of people who need it the most? It will trickle back up anyway, but in a way, that helps everyone and not just those at the top,” said Rep. Forrest Bennett.

Democrats say their changes will be funded in part with a 1 percent personal income tax hike on those making over $100,000 and 2 percent on those over $200,000. Remember though, the Republicans hold a super majority in both the House and Senate. Democrats don’t have a lot of leverage in the budget battle. Leaders tell me a budget agreement is likely by the end of the week.

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