A Reasonable Request and a New Narrative
Superintendent Barresi is asking the legislature for supplemental funding at the beginning of the legislative session. While I have serious differences with the SDE concerning their budget request for the next fiscal year, this one is spot on. It includes a total of $37.7 million to be used by school districts for the remainder of this school year. The appropriation would go to the following categories:
- $15 million for ACE Remediation
- $6.5 million for Reading Sufficiency
- $8.5 million for Health Benefits
- $5.9 million for the school funding formula
- $1.8 million for the Student Longitudinal Data System
The first two line items address gaps in funding for school districts meeting old mandates. Without the supplemental funding, after school and summer programs to help struggling readers and to keep students on track to graduate just won’t happen. The ACE law requires school districts to provide remediation to students in grades 7-12 was only fully funded the first two years. At this time, funding is less than 40 percent what is necessary. Meanwhile, the old Reading Sufficiency program – never fully funded to begin with – takes on greater significance with the addition of third-grade retention. Today’s Tulsa World editorial put it well:
Oklahoma doesn’t need to create a sub-class of young people who have met all other graduation requirements but can’t pass the required exams and thus are denied the diploma needed to get a job or join the military. If we are going to have a law that requires students to prove their test-taking ability, the state ought to provide the remedial help that was promised when the law was passed.
Collectively, these two items, as well as the benefits and formula requests, seem to reflect an understanding that public education in Oklahoma was underfunded prior to the recent slate of reforms.
(For the legislature to have to go back for a third year in a row to fully fund health benefits is simply unconscionable. This needs to be funded correctly the first time for 2014!)
The request for 2014 shows that the reforms need money to have any chance at succeeding. This is a rewrite of a previous narrative – one that told legislators and school districts that the reforms were all revenue neutral.
The new narrative also flies in the face of the statement Barresi made last summer: “Funding for education in this country has doubled over the last 10 years with flatline results.” Yes, we all know money itself doesn’t improve education. We do know the lack of it can be quite limiting, however. Superintendents and school boards have been saying this for years, playing mostly to deaf ears.
Hopefully, at least for the supplemental request, the legislature listens to Barresi and acts quickly. Then, when it comes time to address education funding for next year, there should be a healthy – perhaps uncomfortable – debate.