In the year’s first budget hearing, Oklahoma State Department of Education officials presented their $3.2 billion request to state lawmakers.
It represents a 6% increase — $191 million — over the current fiscal year appropriation, with most going toward the state funding formula for public schools.
Education officials acknowledged Monday enrollment is down 9,500 students. Three-fourths of the enrollment drop is in pre-K and kindergarten. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said they believe the decline has a lot to do with anxiety about the pandemic and that enrollment is likely to pick back up next year when more families are comfortable putting kids in school, though they’ll have missed some important time.
"It is certainly going to mean that the next years from here on are going to mean actually a great level of support that will be needed to give to these children who lost those foundational years," Hofmeister said.
There's $18 million of the requested increase planned for the first year of a three-year plan to hire one-thousand new school counselors. The education department has been asking for funding to start that for three years now.
Hofmeister said given the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the already high rate of adverse childhood experiences in the state, getting more counselors into schools is vital.
"We know food insecurity, even homelessness or home insecurity, can factor into this for Oklahoma children. Second, we know that toxic stress can impair child brain development, particularly with our youngest children," Hofmeister said.
The recommended student to counselor ratio is 250 to one. Oklahoma’s is 412 to one.
The budget request also includes increased funding for compliance with the state Reading Sufficiency Act. The percentage of students at risk of falling below grade level is up in first, second and third grades.