Last week, the final gavel fell ending the 2021 session of the Oklahoma Legislature. Lawmakers have returned to their districts, which means now is the time to reconnect with them about issues important to you.
Maintaining relationships with local lawmakers helps ensure that issues that still must be addressed stays top of mind for them. If you have ideas for how state government children, submit an interim study suggestion. OICA is collecting proposals from Oklahomans and will present them to lawmakers. Go to https://oica.org/interim-study-suggestions/ to submit your idea.
Much of what lawmakers did relating to children was covered in this column; last week we detailed state funding through the appropriations process, state money spent on state needs. It is important to know where much of the money originated allowing for record spending on services. Much was one-time federal assistance.
Oklahoma should receive $6.4 billion this year from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Congress and signed by the President. Common education (Kindergarten through 12th Grade) gets almost $1.5 billion, most distributed directly to individual school districts based on their Title I status, meaning low-income schools will receive proportionately more than other schools.
Public colleges and universities will receive more than $400 million, along with $1.3 billion of the ARPA money going directly to local governments. The remainder will be distributed by the governor’s office, totaling a little over $2 billion, to spend as the governor thinks best through the state’s executive branch services.
It is important to remember this funding is for stabilizing programs impacted by the financial stress created by the pandemic, and to ensure services are maintained to help people get back on their feet. As we move forward and the economy continues to recover, it is important recognize the many outstanding public/private partnerships operating to assist those who are in temporary need.
One program in which the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is excited to assist and promote is called “Ready Together Oklahoma.” Just a few weeks ago, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced the Oklahoma State Department of Education will invest a minimum of $14 million of their federal stimulus funds in summer enrichment through 2023. Individual school districts may leverage their own federal aid to expand student learning opportunities beginning this summer.
The goal is for these summer programs to take a “whole child” holistic approach to aid student recovery. Hofmeister announced the program at the press conference where OICA was invited to be a part of the unveiling. These programs address academic loss and provide food, extracurricular activities, and mental health support.
We were especially pleased to learn that $6 million will go to the Oklahoma Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the Oklahoma Alliance of YMCAs to provide youth summer programming. These activities are vital throughout the state to provide not only activities and exercise for youth, but also to provide summer feeding assistance.
Oklahoma consistently ranks as one of the worst states in the nation in providing opportunities for young people to receive nutritious meals, but opportunities such as this and the dedication of the State Department of Education to work with collaborative nonprofit partners certainly will help improve in this much needed category.
To learn more about this initiative, go to https://readytogether.sde.ok.gov/ and learn how you can be a part of this and help assist your own community.