By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Published: 9/10/2011 1:56 AM
Last Modified: 9/10/2011 7:46 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers say there is growing support to pay for a $5,000 teacher stipend program that was not funded by the state Board of Education.
But a key legislative leader said funding a shortfall in education health insurance is a top priority for him.
Common education took a 4.1 percent funding cut in the last legislative session. The $5,000 stipends for nearly 3,000 teachers who have attained National Board certification was a casualty.
The program costs about $15 million annually, said Damon Gardenhire, a state Department of Education spokesman.
State law requires the stipend to be paid if funds are available.
With state revenues on the rise, lawmakers are considering a solution. Whether the stipends will be paid retroactively or funded through next year’s budget remains to be seen.
“I know several senators are encouraging our leadership that we need to honor our commitment to pay that National Board certification incentive money,” said Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. The state promised the stipend and needs to honor that promise, he said.
Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, concurred. He said senators have informally expressed the sentiment that a promise had been made and needed to be honored. Halligan is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education Appropriations.
Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, said he would like to see the funding restored this year but was uncertain that money would be available.
Stanislawski said he was somewhat surprised the State Board of Education voted not to fund the stipends because there was no discussion, but he understands the reasoning behind the cut.
He said he was even more concerned about cuts to employee health insurance funding.
“I really don’t know anything about what the senators are saying,” said House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville. “I know some House members’ position over here is that we all want to really do it.”
However, the state won’t know how much it has to spend in the next fiscal year until February, Sears said.
“If we have a good amount of funds, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t try to restore the funds we owe now and, by all means, make sure we have the funds for the next fiscal year,” Sears said.
Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, is chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education. She supports a supplemental appropriation to restore the funding.
But House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said it is premature to talk about a supplement to pay for the stipends. The state needs to take care of a shortfall in funding education employees’ health insurance, Steele said.
Schools were shorted about $34 million for the flexible benefit allowance.
“I think, for me, taking care of addressing the issue of the flexible benefit allowance takes precedent over any other funding discussion we may have now or in the future,” Steele said.