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May 17, 2014

Higher education may survive budget cuts

OKLAHOMA CITY — Advocates for state colleges and universities who braced for deep spending cuts breathed sighs of relief Friday morning with the release of a budget compromise between Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican leaders of the state House and Senate.

Facing an overall $188 million shortfall, Fallin, a Republican, initially recommended a 5 percent cut to the State Regents for Higher Education. The regents oversee the $988.6 million budget for 25 state colleges and universities including the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

Also spared was the Department of Career and Technology Education. Its funding — $138.9 million — remains flat except for a $750,000 transfer from the state Department of Education to take over adult basic education programs.

“We are very pleased that Gov. Fallin and our Legislature finalized the … budget with no funding reductions for our state

system of higher education, making higher education an important priority for the coming fiscal year,” Chancellor Glen D. Johnson said in a written statement.

The regents are committed to increasing the number of college graduates and working with state leaders to provide affordable higher education, Johnson said.

Robert Sommers, CareerTech director and secretary of education and workforce development, said in a statement that he believes legislators flat-funded the Career and Technology program “due to our commitment to performance-based funding and enhancements.”

Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said the governor is a “strong advocate” of career certification courses because graduates do better financially than if they simply have high school diplomas.

He noted that higher education officials asked in budget negotiations to keep their budget flat this year.

Overall, the state’s entire education system weathered the expected cuts better than most agencies in the proposed $7.1 billion spending plan. Spending on K-12 education received an additional $80 million, or a 3.3 percent increase.

Fifty-two other agencies took cuts averaging 5.5 percent.

The budget still needs formal approval next week from the House and Senate.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said keeping higher education and CareerTech funding steady was a priority for his caucus.

“We were fortunate we were able to do it,” he said.

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