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Education Leaders Restructure EngageOK; Inman Says Tapping Rainy Day Fund Not Enough

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister delivers a speech during the 2015 EngageOK conference in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma State Department of Education
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister delivers a speech during the 2015 EngageOK conference in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has canceled its annual summer conference because of looming budget cuts.

Thousands of teachers attended the 2015 event at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, and eCapitol’s Christie Southern reports it’s typically used as free professional development for teachers as an opportunity to review federal education requirements. This year teachers were also expected to discuss the new Oklahoma Academic Standards:

Hofmeister told members of the Board of Education the decision was a result of concerns over budget cuts. She said the event would not disappear entirely. Instead, the OSDE will take conference on the road and bring staff members to various statewide regional sites as travel budgets have been stretched thin at many public school districts. "We appreciate the fact so many people have engaged in that and…hope it will be able to return collectively in the future," she said.

On Thursday the Board also formally approved the distribution of $51 million appropriated to the department through a bill Gov. Mary Fallin signed this week. The legislation doesn’t specify how the money should be spent, but the goal is to use most of it for teachers’ health insurance costs.

During his weekly availability with the Capitol press corps Thursday, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said that deal doesn’t go far enough.

"Make no mistake about it, since January 1 our public school system has lost $109 million,” Inman said. “So even though $51 million may have come in this week, our public schools are still down $58 million in the first two-and-a-half months."

Earlier this week Oklahoma City Public Schools announced it was eliminating 208 teaching positions, and Inman said further state cuts could hurt small, rural districts even more.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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