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With Legislature Negotiating Budget, House Republicans Push For $135M Education Funding Boost

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Oklahoma House Republicans are calling for a common education funding increase next fiscal year that would make up for cuts this year driven by the COVID-19 pandemic — and then some. 

"I think we are a top-10 state in how we’ve managed our money and are able to actually put as much money back into education this year. The House’s position is to put around $140 million back into common ed. So, I think that is just a tremendous feat," House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education Chair Mark McBride (R-Moore) said in a video the caucus posted to its Facebook page.

The number House Republicans have put out is $135 million. House Common Education Committee Chair Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) said that funding increase would let kindergarten and first-grade classes be limited to 20 students, a cap passed in 1990 but suspended for more than a decade because of budget shortfalls. 

"Studies show that smaller class sizes definitely increase a child’s ability to learn and to be successful, and longitudinal studies have shown that students that are receiving instruction in smaller classes in their formative years are more likely to attend college and be successful in college," Baker said.

In a statement, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said Democrats support their Republican colleagues’ call for increased education funding, adding her party has called for $200 million in additional education funding the past two years. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said Republicans in that chamber are always open to discussing how to get more dollars into classrooms, but he did not specifically endorse House Republicans’ proposal.

The House also passed an amended version of Senate Bill 229 that would reverse the State Board of Education’s decision to equalize funding for charter and traditional public schools as well as use medical marijuana taxes to give grants to districts receiving below-average local funding because of depressed property values.

Republican lawmakers also passed a funding bill this session opposed by many educators. House Bill 2078 changed the statewide funding formula so only the previous year's enrollment is considered for the allocation rather than the higher of the previous two years. Opponents said the change will make public school funding more volatile, making it more difficult for districts to plan year to year and potentially exposing them to sudden cuts.

Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill at the end of March. The funding formula change starts with the 2022–2023 school year.

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