A bill aimed at providing more resources for Oklahoma schools could extend the school year. The amended legislation has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. In its current form, House Bill 2642, also known as the “Securing Educational Excellence Fund,” by Sen. Jim Halligan in the Senate and Rep. Lee Denney in the House, would divide current “off the top” funding that now goes to transportation and give half of that amount to public schools.
Halligan, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said the national recession resulted in decreased funding for schools in recent years, while student enrollment has increased. Lawmakers are also dealing with a shortfall of $188 million for the coming fiscal year.
Halligan said in the bill’s current form, for every $60 million provided to education, one additional instructional day would be added, up to a total of 10 days.
Currently, $357 million comes off the top of the state budget annually and is earmarked for a fund to repair or replace aging bridges and roads. That fund automatically increases by approximately $60 million a year until it reaches a cap of $575 million, and the state is currently projected to meet that cap by fiscal year 2018. Under HB 2642, education would receive half of the $60 million annual increase, but Halligan says that would only result in a three and a half year delay before the roads fund hit its maximum cap.
The measure, which was approved Wednesday on a vote of 20-3, will next be considered by the full Senate.
“It’s certainly possible we’ll see more changes in this bill, but this is something we’ve got to keep working on,” Halligan said.
Denney chairs the House Appropriations and Budget Committee on Common Education. She said lawmakers value the work of educators in their districts.