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The State of Education 2016: Battling budget woes

State superintendent Joy Hofmeister talks about the state of education in Oklahoma. (KOKH)

While some schools have started already many more are getting ready to reopen their classrooms. However those classrooms will look and feel different this year said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

While state policy makers debate whether or not to go into special session to reallocate to education $140 million in unspent money from the last fiscal year, schools are working with what they have now.

The governor has called for a special session to put the $140 million to teacher raises. Other education advocates say Oklahoma voters need to approve a one-cent sales tax in November to provide funding for teacher raises and other classroom concerns.

Superintendent Hofmeister will not be making the final decision about either of these issues. However she told FOX 25 the debate over how to fund education should not be about just the education department.

“What needs to happen is the adequate and appropriate funding of education,” Hofmeister said.

She does not sugar coat the situation facing educators, but added that schools have changed over the years and teachers now have to provide more for children due to cuts in other areas of state government.

“It is very different than it was 30 years ago or 50 years ago,” Hofmeister told FOX 25, “And we're really not keeping pace with that in terms of providing the kinds of services that need to be provided, that they depend up on that are affected with cuts that happen even beyond education.”

That is one of the reasons Hofmeister believes is leading to teachers leaving the profession. Low pay and being asked to do more with less also contribute, but the role of a teacher is not easy when their students are coming to school with some of the most basic needs of safety and security unmet.

“Many teachers say they are working more in terms of trauma that teaching because of the students they are receiving,” Hofmeister said, “They have families that are suffering from addiction, from illness and unaddressed issues that are about poverty and food insecurity.”

So what does that mean for the state of education in Oklahoma?

Hofmeister says classrooms are underfunded and that does needs to be fixed. According to the state education department and other education advocates, classroom spending has not kept up with student enrollment.

Critics of increased education spending argue there has been no number presented as to what “fully funded” education would look like.

“I don't know a number,” Hofmeister said, “But what I can tell you is for those who say when is enough enough, I would argue that we'll know we are there when we can fund reading programs, when we can provide the remediation that is needed for those who are not arriving in our classrooms at the starting line.”

Regardless of the politics or the different approaches to what fully funded education means Hofmeister said there are some realities that no one can argue.

“There are a lot of changes that will occur this year for a variety of reasons one we will have larger class sizes, we will have fewer teachers than what we need.”

Hofmeister said she is working to maximize resources within the state

“Resources are too scare to try to be real independent as an agency.”

Some of that work is to free up money and resources by cutting out red tape and promoting best practices to ensure teachers can do more with less.

“Kids don't get a do-over on any day. Every day matters.”

The budget situation is bad news, for education and almost every state agency, but in terms of the new school year it isn't all bad news.

Friday night on the Primetime News at Nine, you will learn about the reforms to education that promise to make teaching easier and make school more effective.

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