State trims higher education budget 3.5 percent
Higher education will receive a 3.5 percent cut from state appropriations, a member of the Oklahoma House appropriations committee said Friday at a townhall forum.
Rep. Scott Martin, R-Newcastle, told a small crowd consisting of students and Norman residents at the Norman Chamber of Commerce that while the average rate of state funding cut is 7.5 percent in other departments, higher education was able to come out with a lower percentage of cuts after budget negotiations were finished.
“I think this agreement that we’ve come to in the budget shows that we are not like Congress and the president. We can get things done and also be bipartisan,” Martin said.
Martin said the committee reached a consensus on how much of the state’s Rainy Day Fund should be used in comparison to the amount of federal stimulus money that could be to fill the state’s $700 million budget shortfall.
OU President David Boren stated by e-mail that he is pleased with the agreement that has been reached, but he expects more budget cuts in the next fiscal year.
“The 3.1 percent cut is the size that we have been anticipating for this year, which ends July 1,” Boren stated. “We greatly appreciate the efforts of the governor and legislative leaders for their efforts to keep education cuts as low as possible. Without stimulus money and the Rainy Day Fund, the size of our cuts would be truly destructive to the standards of excellence at OU.”
Boren stated he will try to keep tuition and fee increases to a minimum as the budget for the next year is being determined.
“Looking forward, it appears that the budget agreement will require additional cuts in our budget of 5 to 10 percent for the budget year that begins on July 1, 2010,” Boren stated. “We are hoping to keep tuition and fee adjustments as low as possible for next year and holding budget cuts to the lower end of that spectrum would be very helpful.”
Rep. Bill Nations, D-Norman, Oklahoma House Higher Education and Career Tech Committee vice chairman, explained in the townhall that the current economic situation is similar to the oil bust of the 1980s, but said a change in attitude of the importance of higher education could be credited to higher education receiving only a 3.5 percent cut this fiscal year.
“Twelve years ago, I would advocate for more higher education dollars to go to OU, and all people would see it as is me trying get more money to go to Norman. Many of them didn’t see how much higher ed spending affected them,” he said. “Now, we have many advocates for higher ed up at the capitol because in districts were no higher ed spending will ever go, those legislators will go home and hear about the cost of tuition because the kids that grew up in that district are now going to college at places like OU and [Oklahoma State University].”
Sen. John Sparks, R-Norman, said the only program to be fully cut from the state budget is the senior nutrition program, which gives Oklahoma’s senior citizens in need of food free daily meals at designated areas throughout the state.