Education, prison bailout sent to Fallin’s desk

Nathan ThompsonJournal-Capital

OKLAHOMA CITY — More emergency funding appears to be on its way to Oklahoma schools and prisons, as the state House of Representatives on Monday gave final legislative approval on two measures that will withdraw $78.5 million from the emergency Rainy Day Fund to help the two agencies cope with budget losses this year.

Education funding passes unanimously

Senate Bill 1572, which passed both the House and Senate unanimously, will send $51 million to common education to help offset major losses at the school district level. The action comes following two revenue failures that caused across-the-board cuts to state agencies.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister issued a statement Monday saying she was grateful to lawmakers for approving the supplemental funding.

“We are grateful to the House of Representatives for following the lead of Gov. (Mary) Fallin, Speaker Hickman, Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman and the Senate in approving $51 million in Rainy Day funding for Oklahoma public schools,” Hofmeister said. “Districts are facing serious budget challenges, and this supplemental funding greatly helps offset the impact of February’s revenue failure and will be a great help as educators finish out the spring semester and fiscal year.”

House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chair, Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, co-authored the legislation to tap into the Rainy Day Fund. He said the legislature had no choice but to make this decision to help out Oklahoma schools.

“I am very pleased this passed the House unanimously,” Sears said. “This funding will help classrooms across the state to continue to provide for our schoolchildren. There is no question that we are dealing with a crisis in funding, and I will do whatever I can to soften the blow to our schools. Passing this bill to tap into the Rainy Day Fund was the right thing to do.”

Prison funding faces opposition

The other measure, Senate Bill 1571, will send $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to help fund the agency for the remainder of the fiscal year. The measure passed the Senate unanimously last week, but faced opposition in the House. Monday’s vote in the House of Representatives was 69-27 in favor of the spending.

Of the 27 no votes, 25 of those came from House Democrats, who opposed the supplemental funding for prisons, saying that some of the money is being earmarked for contract beds in private prisons — a position most Democrats oppose.

Joe Allbaugh, interim DOC director, said the emergency funds will help allow his agency to make it through June 30, the end of this fiscal year.

“This money will allow us to maintain essential services, make payroll, pay for our contracted services and avoid a reduction in staffing in order to continue to protect the public,” Allbaugh said. “This is a step in the right direction. Moving forward, I will continue an open line of communications with the governor’s office as well as the members of the Legislature as we come up with a long-term plan for the department.”

The measures to tap the Rainy Day Fund for education and prisons now head to the governor’s desk. Fallin said she will sign both bills.

“Four-day school weeks and draconian cuts at prisons are not acceptable and are not going to happen,” Fallin said in a statement earlier this month. “The deepened revenue failure cuts have changed the budget situation in a way that requires immediate action, so I support accessing the Rainy Day Fund for common education and prisons.”