Education in Oklahoma gets lion's share of $51 million


Tuesday, July 22nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Education and state agencies got a badly needed financial lift Tuesday when the Office of State Finance disbursed $51 million in previously unallocated revenue.

The lion's share of the money _ $27.5 million _ went to the three branches of education. Public schools got $17.3 million, higher education got $8.7 million and career technology received $1.5 million.

The money became available when at the end of Fiscal Year 2003 it was determined that total revenue collections exceeded monthly allocations that had been made to state programs.

The unexpected windfall restored only a fraction, however, of the $351 million that was cut from state budgets during the year because of declining tax revenues tied to a lagging economy.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which operates the Medicaid program, and the state Department of Corrections, which operates state prisons, also will get substantial financial relief.

``In these difficult budget times, every additional budget dollar that we can direct to the classroom makes a positive difference, not just for the students but for the state as a whole,'' Gov. Brad Henry said.

``We still face significant funding challenges in our public schools, but these additional funds will provide a much-needed boost at a very critical time.''

The OHCA will get $4.2 million.

``Because they can attract additional federal matching money, the OHCA funds will be a great help to Oklahoma's health care efforts,'' Henry said. ``Those dollars will make it easier to deliver medical services to Oklahoma children, the elderly and the disabled.''

The DOC will get $4.5 million and the Office of Juvenile Affairs, which operates juvenile facilities, will get $1.2 million.

Corrections officials say they will need additional money to handle prison crowding before the end of the current fiscal year and officials of the Oklahoma Public Employees Union have raised public safety concerns.

Henry said the extra money for prisons ``should help make things a little safer, both for the correctional officers inside the prison walls and the general public outside.''

The governor has been cool to proposals for a special session to spend $58 million in new federal funds recently sent to the state for essential programs.

He says the Legislature can take care of emergency funding needs when it convenes in February and the state should hold onto the federal money to help fill an anticipated budget gap the next fiscal year.

Henry said state agencies could use a portion of their extra funding to address severance issues tied to budget-imposed layoffs.

``Unfortunately, the tough times are not over yet,'' he said. ``Without a speedy, significant improvement in the economy, Oklahoma will be forced to make more difficult budget choices in the months to come.

``However, as long as we continue to work together in a bipartisan manner, I'm confident state leaders will be able to meet those future challenges and build a better Oklahoma in the process.''