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More on State Aid

July 21, 2012

A useful tactic when trying to control a hot narrative amid justified criticism is to tell the people questioning you that they are confused or misinformed. That explains yesterday’s Leadership Post from Superintendent Barresi.

Earlier this week, school districts across Oklahoma received their initial state aid notices from the SDE. Given that the legislature funded public education at a flat level and that enrollment was up by 11,000 students last year, districts were expecting a small dip in the per pupil allowance in the funding formula.

As Barresi points out, “Oklahoma is required by state law to withhold dollars from the initial allocation in order to account for a variety of factors. At a minimum, this is mandated at a floor of 1.5 percent.” She then gives the following breakdown of how money was withheld:

  • Retained for midyear growth & surplus (anticipated growth of ADM) – $35,446,095
  • August adjustment – (this includes new charter applications) – $18,848,842
  • Retained for mid-year adjustment for virtual students – $8,056,285
  • Retained for Lindsey Nicole Henry – $1,500,000
  • Pending adjustments – $105,444
  • Total Amount Withheld: $63,956,666

Yesterday, I criticized the choice to withhold 3.52 percent (more than twice the mandated amount) from state aid to schools. That blog post has spread beyond my wildest imagination, with 189 shares on Facebook as I write this. Reaching even more people was the Tulsa World, which interviewed area school district leaders. The $1.75 million less allocated to Tulsa Public, $210,000 less to Jenks, $522,827 less to Owasso, and $692,000 less to Union will make a difference in how those districts staff schools for the beginning of the school year. Today’s editorial in the World astutely points out that this decision “appears to short regular schools to accommodate virtual and charter schools.”

Damon Gardenhire, the SDE’s spokesperson, goes on to explain that the department is “trying to err on the side of caution and not have districts take a hit mid-year” and that “everything that’s left over will be distributed to schools during their mid-year adjustments.” That’s all well and good, but district leaders are making staffing decisions now. While 90 percent of that planning occurs in the spring, school districts – which are used to receiving funding notices earlier, I might add – watch enrollment during the summer and add positions as needed. When test scores come back (on time this year), they make further decisions based on the areas of greatest need.

And that’s the perspective lacking from the non-educators making these decisions. Most of the top leadership at the SDE does not have experience running a school district. In times like these, it shows. The state department has chosen to withhold more money from school districts than they are required to. This choice will hurt students. Barresi closed yesterday with the hope that her post “clears up any misunderstanding that may have occurred as a result of any misleading information you may have received.”

Then understand clearly what the 2012-13 school year has in store for Oklahoma districts: more students, more mandates and regulations, and less money.

I hope that clears it up.

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  1. Elise Robillard
    July 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you for continuing to shine a light. I have heard that districts are appealing the SDE decision to withhold so much from their allocation. Of course, they appeal that decision to the State Superintendent who made the decision in the first place. We should read this loudly and clearly: Dr. Barresi has every intention of diverting funds away from public school districts and into charter schools and virtual schools. Unfortunately, the general public is completely oblivious to her actions. These are complex strategies with far-reaching consequences. So, they role you play in keeping us informed is essential — and it is ever so important that this information go viral.

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