By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin expects the state to have an additional $40 million to spend when revenues are certified later this month.
In her Feb. 4 State of the State speech, Fallin said revenues would be $170 million higher than projected. Friday, the governor said the state probably can add $40 million to that $170 million.
“So I am hoping we can put some more money toward education and be able to do the things we need to do,” Fallin told those attending the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon at the Wes Watkins Center.
Education funding, Fallin said, was cut during the recession. The governor’s office will work with legislators to restore some funding.
“We are gradually trying to get some of that funding back up,” she said in an interview with the NewsPress following the luncheon.
Fallin reviewed the status of Oklahoma’s economy before turning her attention to education.
Oklahoma created 62,400 new net jobs since January 2011. It’s the fourth highest job growth rate in the United States, Fallin said. She pointed to Oklahoma’s 5.1 percent and Stillwater’s 3.7 percent jobless rates.
The median household income in Oklahoma rose $4,000 in 2011, she added.
“We are No. 1 in the nation in per capita income growth,” Fallin said.
The state’s Rainy Day Fund had dwindled to $2.03 by January 2011 because of the recession. Today, it contains more than $600 million because the state prioritized spending, promoted pro-business policies and lowered taxes, she said.
Soon, the governor turned to education — focusing on science, technology, engineering and math and ensuring high school seniors graduate with 12th-grade skill levels and third-graders are reading at grade level before they are promoted to fourth grade.
OSU Vice President for Research and Technology Stephen McKeever is Fallin’s Secretary of Science and Technology. He has developed a STEM initiative.
“We are going to need more STEM-educated graduates,” Fallin said.
The aerospace industry and areas of the energy sector need career-technology certified and higher-education certified workers, she said.
The STEM initiative works with state industries to determine their science, technology, engineering and math needs. It tailors education to meet those skill sets, Fallin said.
“We can align our high schools, career technology and higher education programs to help produce more graduates in those particular fields because we know that that’s one of the highest job growth areas in our state, and frankly, throughout our nation,” Fallin said.
Oklahoma’s new A-F school system report cards have spawned criticism from educators who claim the grades are unclear and unfair. University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University researchers questioned the validity, reliability and usefulness of the report cards, which measure student achievement, student growth and whole school performance.
The system report cards may need fine tuning, Fallin said, but they are here to stay.
“We are going to make sure ... it is doing what it is intended to do, but I want everybody to keep in mind the reason we passed A-F is to make sure a student gets the education they have to have,” Fallin said.
A high school diploma must mean the student is 12th-grade educated, she said.
Students also need to be able to read at the third-grade level before they are promoted to fourth grade, Fallin said, because they can’t learn if they can’t read.
“This year, I want to make sure we fund our reforms that we have done in common education so I put more money in my state budget,” she said.