By Rep. Mike Sanders
Gosh it feels good to report this: a budget agreement between the House, Senate and the governor has been reached, and it’s one that increases education funding, state savings, rural health care services, agriculture and public safety and fully funds state infrastructure projects while promoting jobs and healthy economic growth – all without raising additional taxes.
This budget devotes about $203 million to education – from preK to college and CareerTech. We are giving teachers a raise of about $1,220. For years we’ve heard about the need to increase teacher pay, so we’ve done that both last year and this, bringing our teacher pay rate to the top in the region. This will keep our teachers from leaving for other states and will help us retain and recruit more traditionally certified teachers for our public school classrooms. This pay raise is going to go to teachers in schools that are on the funding formula, which is 97 percent of Oklahoma teachers. Those schools that are off the funding formula will still be encouraged to give their teachers this raise as well. I believe all teachers in Oklahoma should receive this raise.
We also are putting about $74.3 million into the state funding formula with the expectation that school boards and superintendents will allot this money to our classrooms, so we can reduce classroom sizes and give our teachers and students the materials and support they need. For the first time, we also are fully funding the Reading Sufficiency Program so we can better help students learn to read on grade level. Plus, we are fully funding concurrent enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors so they can earn college credits before they graduate.
This budget gives $30 million to our County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund. I have stood with our county commissioners, and I’m extremely happy we are able to put some of their money back. I’m also happy to report that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan is fully funded. Infrastructure has been a top priority for me, and I fought for this funding for years.
We also increased provider rates for our rural nursing homes and are paying for more physicians’ training for rural hospitals.
In addition, we’re increasing pay for state employees and for our correctional workers who work to keep our citizens safe. We also are appropriating money for two new Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper academies to increase the number of troopers who serve Oklahomans. By funding these two academies, we will be able to put 80 new Highway Patrolmen on our highways by 2020.
This budget also allots more funding for rural fire management and gives additional resources for our rural firefighters. This will help our Rural Fire Defense Fund and will help with our 80/20 Grants. These monies are very important to Northwest Oklahoma and very important to our rural, volunteer firefighters who are the backbone to our Oklahoma fire service.
We’re also saving money in this budget - $200 million into a state savings account, which is something I have fought for tirelessly this year. We’ll be building up to $1 billion in the state’s Rainy Day fund by the end of this year. This will keep us from cutting core services the next time the state experiences an economic downturn.
Another plus of this budget is the focus on job growth and economic development through specific programs under the governor’s purview and the Department of Commerce.
I’ll give more details of the state budget in the weeks to come, but for now I’m grateful to report this deal has been reached. It’s a positive for our area and for the state.
If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.