A state House budget committee took a keen interest on Monday in the funding K–12 schools are getting outside of state appropriations.
During the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s budget presentation, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was asked about more than $120 million in coronavirus relief funding that went to schools. She said that funding must be drawn down as reimbursements, and schools are largely using it to add teachers and reading specialists. But the funding has not been distributed equally.
"For example, one school district received a portion that represents $23 per student in their school. Another school received thousands of dollars per student," Hofmeister said.
Lawmakers also asked about nearly $1 billion in funding school districts carried over from their general funds at the end of the 2020 budget year. Hofmeister said those decisions are made by individual districts to help them weather downturns.
Work to improve kids’ reading ability was also a popular topic. Oklahoma has fallen behind regional states in fourth-grade reading over the past five years, and even former cellar-dweller for reading proficiency Mississippi has leapfrogged Oklahoma in fourth-grade reading scores.
OSDE also projects larger shares of first-through-third graders will be at risk of not reading at grade level this year than last. The agency’s requested budget includes a $2 million increase for reading-related screening and help, as well as $1 million for participation in Imagination Library, which sends kids age-appropriate books each month from birth until age 5, helping families prepare kids to be readers.
Hofmeister said another step that would help is if lawmakers required colleges of education in the state to teach new methods based on the science of reading.
"However, we have tens of thousands of teachers and educators who didn’t receive that when they went through the college of education because that was not understood, as science has provided evidence and developed that," Hofmeister said.
OSDE is requesting $3.2 billion next year, representing a $191 million increase. Most of it will go toward undoing a cut to the state funding formula made last year. It presented its budget request to a Senate budget committee two weeks ago.