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State Senators approve public school funding

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma senators voted unanimously Monday for a bill increasing spending on public schools by $145 million.

The measure encompasses much of Gov. Brad Henry's common education budget plan and is in keeping with last year's commitment to "fund education first," Senate leaders said.

Last week, Senate Republicans and House Democrats called for action on the education bill before a March 16 deadline.

"This legislation mirrors the common education appropriation in the governor's executive budget very closely," said Sen. Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, Senate appropriations chairman.

"More importantly," Morgan continued, "it includes the funds necessary to keep the promises we made to our teachers last year."

Senate leaders maintain the education bill should by passed by March 16 under last year's budget agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, Senate minority leader, said March 16 is the deadline for the Legislature to finish action on the common education bill.

He said it is important to enact the bill by that date so school districts will have time to notify teachers if their contracts will be renewed for the next school year.

"Funding education first and early during the legislative session ensures that education is not used as a political football in the budget process," Coffee said.

A measure approved a year ago requires that the budget bill be presented to the governor by the Legislature at least 25 days before school districts' deadlines for negotiating teacher contracts.

The bill includes $57.7 million for the first phase of Henry's four-year plan to raise teacher salaries to the regional average. It also includes $42.8 million to pay for 100 percent of individual health insurance premiums for teachers.

Morgan said there was no agreement with the House on the measure.

"We expect for our negotiations with the House to continue and we hope this bill can be part of the framework for a final budget that everyone can support," he said.

The bill provides $4 million for the governor's math initiative for junior high schools.

It earmarks $3.1 million in lottery revenue for the voluntary school consolidation program and $3.1 million in lottery revenue for the teacher retirement program.

It sets aside $2.5 million for a student information system required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, $1.7 million for a program that gives bonuses and scholarships to nationally certified teachers and $1 million for alternative education programs.
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