On the face of it, it’s scandalous: The state budget for public schools goes up only 5%, while the governor’s office budget rises almost 55%.
How could the state get its priorities so out of whack, right?
Not so fast.
First, let’s look at the actual numbers.
Public school funding will go up $157.7 million, enough to pay for a $1,220 pay raise for the vast majority of teachers, cover increased state costs for teacher health benefits, fully fund the Reading Sufficiency Act and send an additional $74 million to local districts to help deal with class-size issues and closed programs.
The state budget for public schools will be more than $3 billion, the highest ever.
Meanwhile, the governor’s office is going from $1.6 million to $3.6 million, an increase pundits are circling in red ink.
Why the sharp increase? Because Gov. Kevin Stitt has largely ended the historic practice of governors hiding their staff’s salaries in state agency budgets.
By appointing Cabinet secretaries whose paychecks aren’t reliant on the agencies they supervise, Stitt has established truly independent oversight.
Those people still deserve to be paid, but they should be paid out of the appropriate budget — the governor’s budget.
Stitt put his people’s true costs into his own budget and took the PR hit. Good for him. Oklahoma gets a more honest budget and greater independence in the Cabinet room.
For what it’s worth, our back-of-the-envelope math shows that if the state dedicates 100% of the governor’s office budget to public schools — paid Stitt and his Cabinet nothing and fired all their staff — it would be enough to give every Oklahoma teacher an additional raise of $76.20 a year.
We wish the state budget had more money for public schools and other needed issues. There was money left on the table that could have accomplished a lot of good; but it’s wrong to criticize the size of the governor’s office budget without any sort of context.
Statistics in the hands of a determined pundit can be a dangerous thing. If they’ll take the time to look past the rhetoric, Oklahomans should have no problem with the size of the governor’s budget.