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Shrillness is in the Eye of the Beholder

August 23, 2012

As you may have heard, school districts this week received notice that the original allocation notice they received in late July has been modified. Now that the SDE has taken care of virtual and charter schools, less money has been reserved by the state. Districts received revised notices a couple of days ago, and most are still way short of where they were last year.

To refresh your memory, the SDE is required to hold back a minimum of 1.5 percent of state aid in order to make mid-term adjustments in December. Last year, they held back 2.26 percent. This year, they reserved 3.52 percent, or $64 million. School districts were justifiably upset. That is unless you ask Rep. Jason Nelson. He penned a blog post yesterday expressing outrage that “Some public school officials have engaged in unjustified, shrill criticism of Superintendent Janet Barresi.”

Shrill? Unjustified? Hardly! In Barresi’s message releasing funds to schools, she stated:

“As indicated this summer, now that August enrollment counts have been completed for public charter schools, the State Department of Education has adjusted initial state aid allocations and will be allocating an additional $9 million to all Oklahoma public school districts. Several public charter schools had lower enrollment numbers than initially anticipated, and several of the schools that applied for new charters this year will not open this semester.”

Nine million? By my math, that takes the reserve down to $55 million, or 3.02 percent. It’s still twice the mandate. Maybe, as a member of the legislature, it should bother Rep. Nelson that the SDE is not allocating the money to schools as directed. No, that’s not it. He responded by coming to the Board meeting and complaining that school districts are ending the year with a fund balance.

Below is a table of the allowable fund balance carryover, as written in statute:

Total Amount of General Fund Collections

Maximum Amount of General Fund Balance
Less than $1,000,000 40 %
$1,000,000 to $2,999,999 35 %
$3,000,000 to $3,999,999 30 %
$4,000,000 to $4,999,999 25 %
$5,000,000 to $5,999,999 20 %
$6,000,000 to $7,999,999 18 %
$8,000,000 to $9,999,999 16 %
$10,000,000 or more

14 %

Because of the way state aid payments are made to schools, some fund balance (or carryover) is necessary. Without one, checks written at the beginning of the fiscal year would bounce. Any number of businesses operate under the same principal. It just makes good fiscal sense to reserve enough money to pay your upcoming bills. That’s how I run a household too.

And if that bit of teamwork wasn’t enough, Rep. Nelson then got some added support from Board member Bill Price, who is also chairman of the Oklahoma School Choice Coalition. Price stated that poverty affecting school performance is a myth and that districts’ complaints about funding problems are also nonsense. He then suggested allowing businesses to audit school districts to suggest ways they can cut costs. Barresi agreed. So did Nelson.

To be fair, I followed this discussion through the tweets of Capitol reporter Erin Boeckman, who always does a fantastic job of keeping political junkies informed. Maybe I missed something in the context. It’s hard to say.

What I can say is something I’ve already said. I’ve said it over and over. The legislature has decreased funding for public education repeatedly over the last five years. Meanwhile, public schools are enrolling more students. Exacerbating this is the decision-making by the SDE, which chose continues to withhold more than twice the mandated amount of state aid in its reserves.

These studies planned to look at funding for education are a farce. They’re a song and dance performed by politicians intent on bleeding public schools dry. School districts are already cutting costs. They’re cutting services to children. They’re cutting remediation programs. They’re cutting bus routes. They’re cutting staff. We don’t need random businesses to come into our schools and tell us more about that.

How’s that for shrill?

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  1. Doug Fishback
    August 24, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Meanwhile, state revenues continue to rebound strongly, and the Rainy Day fund just got a nice $21 million doggy bag of fiscal table scraps from the FY12 close.

    Like

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