H.B. 1017 Contributing To Shortage In School Funding

Thursday, March 6th 2008, 6:49 pm
By: News On 6

One of the problems with school funding is that it depends on sources that are unstable.  The News On 6's Emory Bryan reports one of the sources of money is the House Bill 1017 fund which is down this year by $37 million.  And the legislature was counting on sales of lottery tickets to help fill the gap, but it's off by $4.5 million.

When the legislature passed House Bill 1017, teachers cheered outside and inside the capitol.  After all, they had gone on strike to force changes like higher salaries and smaller classes.

The legislature responded by raising taxes in a way that was supposed to eliminate the yearly uncertainty of school funding.

State Secretary of Education Sandy Garrett said later requiring students to take more math and english was paying off with higher ACT scores.

"This is the greatest news we've had in Oklahoma in a long time as far as a real validation that our reform is working," said Sandy Garrett, Secretary of Education in 1996.

The law survived a challenge from an anti-tax group, but over the years has been undermined by lawmakers changing priorities and the economy.

The lottery was pitched as way to boost funding again, but the estimates of how much it would make turned out to be unrealistic as predicted by one time candidate for Governor Steve Largent.

"We were told if we passed liquor by the drink, para mutual betting, House Bill 1017 that was going to cure our ills in education and it hasn't done it and a lottery won't either," said Largent in 2002.

Now lawmakers have to decide what they'll do next, fill the shortfall by cutting spending elsewhere or come up with another plan to pay for the rising cost of education.

Over the years, class sizes have crept up again and teacher salaries are still low for the region, and lawmakers are once again telling educators they'll have to cut their budgets at the end of the budget year when it's most difficult to make changes.