As the Legislature approaches the end of this year's session, Superintendent Janet Barresi has reiterated a budget request that asks for an increase to make up for funds lost last year and to help implement reforms.
The Board of Education in December approved a $157.9 million budget increase requested by the State Department of Education for Fiscal Year 2013. The budget allows the department to implement reforms passed this year – such as changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act, which will put an end to social promotion for students not reading on grade level by the end of third grade; an A-F grading system for schools; and the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System. The budget also allows the department to meet state requirements for funding programs such as Teacher Retirement and the Flexible Benefits Allowance. And it restores funding to FY 2011 levels for programs such as National Board Certified Teacher bonuses, Advanced Placement incentives and Achieving Classroom Excellence remediation, which had to be cut last year due to state budget cuts. The increase is the smallest amount sought in many years.
The Legislature has already acted to approve supplemental funds to pay for last year's National Board Certified stipends and to assure districts have the dollars they need for flexible benefits allowances. In March, Senate Bill 1959, was signed into law, which provides $92.5 million in supplemental appropriations for the current fiscal year to fund flexible health benefits for education employees; $5,000 bonuses for National Board Certified teacher, school psychologists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists; and other state services. The State Education Department hopes that the supplemental amount will be annualized to make it a permanent part of the budget.
Supt. Barresi emphasized that the budget request submitted by State Board in December "represents a responsible budget request that ensures we can implement crucial reforms across the state, while also meeting requirements and restoring programs previously cut. Oklahoma continues to face fiscal challenges, and we're mindful that any budget request must carefully prioritize and use taxpayer dollars in an efficient and effective manner."