Supplemental Funding to Assist Public Schools and Corrections Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation authorizing the withdrawal of monies from the Rainy Day Fund to assist schools and state prisons with the revenue failure created by the oil bust in Oklahoma passed the House of Representatives yesterday afternoon. After a 70 percent drop in the price of oil and thousands of layoffs, revenue collections this year have fallen below projections and state agencies receiving General Revenue Funds have seen their appropriations reduced by 7 percent.

SB1572 appropriates $51 million to the State Department of Education for financial support of public schools and to pay the full cost of health insurance for teachers, administrators and support personnel. SB1571 appropriates $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to cover medical and contracted services for inmate population increases. The State Board of Corrections approved a supplemental request for $38.7 million after the second revenue failure earlier this month. Supplemental funding is allocated for the current fiscal year ending June 30.

“Building one budget each year is challenging, but when you’re having to deal with two — managing the current budget that we’re in as well as building next year’s — it’s been made even more challenging,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview. “Our prisons are in a crisis at more than 120 percent of capacity and only around 65 percent staffed on any given day, so this emergency funding is critical.”

The supplemental funding for common education is necessary to ensure schools have the resources to complete the school year then have time to plan ahead for next year. As a priority for the Republican majority in the House, public schools did not receive a budget cut last year when the Legislature had $611 million less to appropriate than the prior year. In FY’15, the Legislature cut funding to many other agencies to increase school funding by $145 million.

“Education receives 51 percent of the state budget, around 35 percent of that going just to preK-12 schools, so it is clearly our highest priority and this additional funding continues that commitment,” said Hickman.

The Constitutional Reserve Fund or “Rainy Day Fund” currently has a balance of $385 million. The Legislature can appropriate three-eighths of that amount for the current fiscal year which is approximately $144 million. Both supplemental measures total $78.5 million.

“The $51 million supplemental for education is vital. It ensures that our school districts can finish out their school year as planned,” said Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman. “Our students and educators deserve stability and this supplemental provides it. The need in the classroom is great and our swift action sends a clear signal that we are listening.”

“We must continue to address the critical situation in our state prison system,” said Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw. “Public safety is a core function of government and we must have the resources to keep violent criminals behind bars. This supplemental agreement is a necessary action that will prevent further erosion of the department.”

Both bills will go to the Governor for her signature.