OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Lawmakers expected to hear new budget proposals from new State Superintendent Ryan Walters, but instead were disappointed to find out his presentation was a breakdown of his predecessor’s budget plan.
In front of the House Appropriations and Budget Education Committee, Walters gave his best explanation to what was in the budget approved by the State Board of Education back in September.
That was one of the final acts by former State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. In it she added a $5,000 raise for all teachers in Oklahoma.
However, on Tuesday, both Democrats and Republicans alike were confused when Walters was not prepared to give his own budget proposals.
Instead, Walters said he would present his ideas to the same committee next week.
“Are you saying the budget will totally change,” asked Representative Mark McBride, Chairman of the House A&B Education Committee.
“Yes, sir,” replied Walters. “It will be very different when we come in next week and present back to this body.”
McBride then audibly said he was “confused.”
He asked Vice Chair Ryan Martinez about his thoughts, and he responded saying changes would be “problematic.”
At one point, McBride rhetorically asked why the meeting was taking place if the presentation was not about Walters’ new proposals.
After the momentary pause, McBride allowed lawmakers to continue questions to Walters regarding appropriations and the budget.
Representative Andy Fugate, Democrat Floor Leader, asked if there was money to address getting the thousands of teachers that have left the profession back in the classroom.
“We can absolutely provide an incentive package,” responded Walters.
Republican lawmaker Rhonda Baker asked if there was money to provide more reading coaches across the state.
Walters said he did want to focus on reading coaches in his new budget.
He said his team is working on an exact number, but the “investment would pay dividends” moving forward.
McBride stuck to his word and ended the meeting when questions and answers started to get off the topic of appropriations.
“I told everybody in the beginning, we are going to stay focused on education, appropriation, budget,” explained McBride, after the meeting adjourned. “And we began to deviate away from that.”
Despite the confusion during the meeting, McBride seemed to expect the another presentation by Walters.
“So you were anticipating him to present the budget that was from former Superintendent Hofmeister,” I asked McBride.
“I was,” said McBride.
Walters argued he presented what he was told by McBride.
“I was asked to come in to talk about that budget,” said the superintendent. “That’s what I did. It came in to show that budget and where money had been allocated or proposed to be allocated.”
The big question came back to the authority to change the budget after it was adopted by the State Board of Education.
“I’ve looked at Title 70 up and down and Section 18-162 requires them to have the board approval by October one,” said Fugate, after the meeting. “That’s the statutory deadline.”
Walters will meet with the new State Board of Education on Thursday.
He plans to present the new budget amendments next week to the House and Senate.