Sandy Garrett raises funding concerns for Common Ed vs. Higher Ed

By Patrick B. McGuigan

As expected the state Board of Equalization on Tuesday (Dec. 22) declared a state revenue failure. While most actions were routine, one vote touching government education funding mechanisms attracted extra discussion.

Although all votes taken at Tuesday’s meeting were unanimous, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett pressed on one issue. Garrett asked about the Office of State Finance’s estimate that $57 million would be needed to provide funding for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships (OHLAP). The total is $3 million more than was spent last year. While she supported board action to pass the OHLAP estimate, she said she was concerned that a similar mandate does not exist for the state’s funding of national board certification for public school teachers.  

CapitolBeatOK asked Superintendent Garrett to identify her three greatest concerns in the budget crunch. Garrett said she is perhaps most worried about “maintaining a quality work force,” meaning teachers in public schools.

Her second greatest worry, Garrett said, relates to maintenance of student

services, including transportation. She noted two states are now charging a fee to students who use school buses. Some other states have begun, in certain districts, to omit funding for transportation.

Third, echoing the question she raised during the equalization board meeting, Superintendent Garrett told this reporter that she is worried the state will not be able to “keep the promises we’ve made to students in our schools.” Garrett, in her comments, went a bit beyond her remarks during the board meeting. She said, “Enrollment in higher education is down, yet in the OHLAP scholarship, for example, we have promised to grow the support for scholarships.” She continued, “Enrollment in common education is actually up, with most of that coming in higher numbers in our elementary schools.”

Garrett reported much of the enrollment growth is taking place in urban school districts located in and around the state’s two largest cities.

Garrett repeated her concern about finding adequate support to reward teachers who receive national board certification. While discussing this matter with this reporter, her staff reported to Garrett and passed along that Oklahoma is some $4,662,000 short of the money needed to provide board certified teachers the stipends they were promised.

Legislators previously approved some $20 million for support of national board certification, but cost of the program has grown.

In the program, teachers who gain national board certification get $5,000 bonuses for 10 years. The state program pays the certification fee of $2,500 for up to 400 teachers a year. Garrett says she considers support for national board-certified teachers “a promise that should be kept.”