The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

September 19, 2013

Study: State leads nation in cuts to schools

Oklahoma has made the deepest cuts of any state in per-student funding for public schools since before the recession, according to a recently released study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The study, “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession,” shows 34 states are providing less funding for K-12 education.

“The reduced levels reflect not only the lingering effects of the 2007-09 recession, but also continued austerity in many states; indeed, despite some improvements in overall state revenues, schools in around a third of states are entering the new school year with less state funding than they had last year,” the report reads. “At a time when states and the nation are trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, this decline in state educational investment is cause for concern.”

The report uses inflation-adjusted dollars for its comparisons. It finds Oklahoma is spending 22.8 percent less per student than in fiscal year 2008 — the biggest spending cut of all 50 states.

Shawn Hime, superintendent of Enid Public Schools, noted that in inflation-adjusted dollars, the hit to schools in Oklahoma equals a spending cut of $810 per pupil since fiscal year 2008.

“If you use the numbers they use, that’s $6.3 million more that Enid Public Schools would have to educate our children,” Hime said.

This is not the way Oklahoma wants to be No. 1, Hime said.

Hime said schools’ financial restraints are hampering their ability to have the best materials, technology and teachers for the job.

“We currently have a big teacher shortage in Oklahoma, and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that all the surrounding states pay a higher wage,” Hime said.

Roydon Tilley, superintendent of Chisholm Public Schools, concurs.

With a school district as small as Chisholm, funding cuts are deeply felt.

“Even $400 per pupil is a highly significant amount for me,” Tilley said.

Additionally, public schools do not pick and choose which students come through their doors, the way charter schools do, Tilley said.

Whatever is needed is what the schools need to provide, and that can get expensive when it comes to things like one-on-one paraprofessionals for disabled students, Tilley noted.

“We’ll stay positive and offer the best possible education in spite of what the circumstances are,” Hime said.

The report also states:

• At least 34 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit. Thirteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent.

• At least 15 states are providing less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year than they provided a year ago. This is despite the fact most states are experiencing modest increases in tax revenues.

• Where funding has increased, it has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years. For example, New Mexico is increasing school funding by $72 per pupil this year. But that is too small to offset the state’s $946 per-pupil cut over the previous five years.

Janet Barresi, state superintendent, issued a written statement on the study.

“I have not had an opportunity to review this report, but I have been advocating for targeted increases in education funding to benefit student learning,” Barresi wrote. “The reality is we do not pay our teachers enough, and that is why I want our schools to increase pay $2,000 for each teacher.”

Oklahoma’s current allocation for schools is a modest increase per student, Barresi wrote.

“This year, districts will see an increase in per-pupil funding of $8 per student,” Barresi said. “The initial allocation for FY14 is $3,038 per student, as opposed to the $3,030 for FY13.”

Statewide, there are 6,634 more students in Oklahoma than there were a year ago, Barresi said.

“Although we are pleased with the growing population in Oklahoma, this does present funding challenges,” Barresi wrote. “To help offset the student growth in our state, the (State Department of Education) asked the Legislature for and received an additional $21.5 million in funding for state aid to schools. This year, the Legislature appropriated $1,837,570,779. The FY13 appropriation was $1,816,091,355.”

“Our job is to work with people at the local and state levels to see that we do everything we can to educate our students at the highest possible level,” Hime said. “That includes working to ensure we have the necessary funding to do so.”

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