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Hickman: Common Education Cuts Will Be Less Than 5 Percent In 2017 Budget

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Jacob McCleland

The top Republican in the Oklahoma House pledged education cuts in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget won’t exceed 5 percent.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said his GOP colleagues want to send a message to local schools.

"Our hope is to get that number down even smaller, and we're doing a lot of work, and have been for many months, to try to figure out how to do that,” Hickman told reporters during a Thursday press conference at the state Capitol. “But for planning purposes, for schools, and so that they can avoid putting teachers through reduction in force hearings because they're planning 15 to 20 percent cuts, we just want to provide some clarity."

Both the House and Senate are still struggling with a $1.3 billion hole for the budget year that begins July 1. House Democratic Leader Scott Inman said Thursday that gap could be closed by addressing the issues he says caused the shortfall in the first place.

"Fixing the income tax cuts in January that took effect. Rolling those income tax cuts back. Fixing the gross production tax. Indexing it to the price of oil, so that way when our citizens are paying $3.50 a gallon again in the near future, that our state will be able to reap the benefits from that. And taking a look at significant tax credit reform for those areas that are not benefitting the state,” Inman said.

Lawmakers also have access to various revenue sources, including more than $300 million in the state's Rainy Day Fund. Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill last month pulling $51 million from the state's savings account for common education. About half of the budget appropriated by lawmakers is made up of education funding, The Oklahoman’s Rick Green writes:

“I greatly appreciate Speaker Hickman's efforts to limit public education funding cuts to 5 percent and continued work that may result in an even better budget outlook for schools. Districts must make decisions now that will affect hundreds of thousands of students next school year,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “If in the coming days Hickman and other legislative leaders can assure schools that funding cuts will be capped at 5 percent, school leaders can plan to make only those cuts that are absolutely necessary and protect classrooms to the greatest extent possible.”

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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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