OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry has made education the focal point of his administration, but former Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor says Henry is coming up short this year.
``If he truly wants to be an education governor, he needs to do more. He's doing more than lip service, but he's not doing much more than lip service,'' Taylor, a fellow Democrat, said in an interview.
Taylor's beef is that public schools, in his view, are being shortchanged in a year when the Legislature has $471 million of growth revenue to spend.
Henry has proposed a $144 million increase in school funding, including provisions to fund all-day kindergarten and make the first installment in a five-year plan to raise teacher pay to the regional average.
The governor and Democrat-controlled Senate are locked in a budget dispute with House Republicans, whose spending plan deletes the extra kindergarten funding.
The dispute led to lawmakers missing an April 1 deadline to complete school funding so administrators can prepare their own budgets and take necessary personnel actions.
There is no legal requirement for meeting the deadline, but Henry said leaders had a moral obligation to comply.
Taylor seems as upset about the amounts of money being discussed for schools as he was about the missed deadline.
``The last time we had funding available like we did this year we did a $3,000 pay increase for teachers,'' he said. ``The Henry budget calls for about a $1,300 pay raise for teachers. That's simply not enough.''
Taylor, who is in his 26th year as a legislator, was pro tem in 2000 when teachers got a $3,000 raise, their first across-the-board increase in 10 years.
Paul Sund, spokesman for Henry, was surprised by Taylor's comments.
``Governor Henry is proud of his record in education,'' Sund said. ``He is the first governor in 15 years to raise additional funds for public schools through the education lottery and regulation of tribal gaming.
``He has pushed though a teacher pay program that will boost Oklahoma educators' salaries to the regional average for the first time in history. He also proposed and passed legislation mandating that 100 percent of teacher health insurance costs be paid by the state _ also a first.
``I don't think, given that record, even Governor Henry's harshest critics would question his commitment to education.''
Henry also drew praise from Roy Bishop, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. ``I think the governor has been a blessing for education, considering some of the situations we had had to deal with in the past. I'm talking about his attitude and his knowledge of what education can do for Oklahoma economically; how it can attract businesses, how it can grow its tax base and keep our children in our state.''
The OEA, which represents about 40,000 teachers, often sparred with Henry's predecessor, Republican Gov. Frank Keating, over a variety of issues.
Taylor made his comments about education funding after Democratic senators were informed of a Senate plan to spend $1.3 billion on road and bridge maintenance over a 15-year-period. The plan called for using $102 million in growth revenue this year.
Taylor is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee but is not author of the Senate road bill.
He has demonstrated he also differs with the governor, his Senate colleagues and the Republican House on cutting taxes this year by about $100 million instead of spending the money on schools and health care.
Taylor was the only Democrat to vote against Henry's tax program and one of only two who voted against the tax-cut plan put forth by Senate Democrats.
He said he had argued in the Democratic caucus that giving more money to highways this year was good, ``but we should now turn our attention to education and dealing with the Medicaid issue.''
``We still have not caught back up, in effect, with the cuts that were made in education'' during Henry's first year in office, when he was greeted with a $700 million shortfall, Taylor said.
Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, said he was aware of Taylor's position and did not necessarily disagree that education deserved more money. ``It's just a constant balancing act, trying to do it all,'' Morgan said.