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May 5, 2013

This week, state leaders reached a budget agreement that will increase education funding by $91 million. At first, that sounds huge. In context, though, it does not. I broke down the distance between the governor’s initial proposal for funding and the SDE’s request back in February. This post will reflect on those initial proposals and where this agreement leaves schools.

Superintendent Barresi requested $37.7 million for the remainder of this school year. Fallin proposed $8.5. The budget agreement settled on $17. This will fund shortages in the initial budget for employee benefits and some ad valorem reimbursement. This does not plug holes in funding for mandates such as the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE).

For next year, Barresi requested an increase of $289 million. Fallin proposed $13.5 million. The budget agreement was $74 million. The SDE budget request included the following increases:

  • $234.7 million for financial support of public schools (money directly going into the funding formula)
  • $2.1 million for instructional materials
  • $2.3 million for adult education programs
  • $1.5 million for alternative education
  • $2.2 million for Education Leadership Oklahoma (National Board scholarships and bonuses)
  • $23.6 million for health benefits
  • $1 million for Oklahoma Parents as Teachers
  • $13.5 million for reform implementation
  • $1.5 million for competitive grants for schools
  • $1.6 million for agency operations
  • $5 million for testing

If the SDE’s estimate for health benefits was correct, this actually leaves $50.4 million in new funding. That works out to just over $70 per pupil.

I had a reader ask me Friday if this agreement was going to be enough. That is but one of the questions that needs to be asked. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I want to answer the other question, which concerns how that money will be distributed.

We can assume that the $50.4 million increase (after benefits) will not all go directly into the funding formula. With recent events in mind, will the $5 million increase for testing remain intact? Will the $13.5 million for reform implementation stay? And what about an extra $1.6 million for agency operations? Until the legislature indicates how much of this is assigned to specific line items within the education budget, it is hard to understand the complete picture.

Back to the first question: no, this isn’t enough. It isn’t even close. If I were at a blackjack table, I’d be scratching at the felt, asking for more. Let’s review education funding since 2008.

Fiscal Year

State Budget

Education Funding

2008

$6.95 billion $2.51 billion

2009

$7.09 billion $2.53 billion

2010

$6.59 billion $2.57 billion

2011

$6.71 billion $2.38 billion

2012

$6.50 billion $2.28 billion

2013

$6.85 billion $2.33 billion

2014

$7.11 billion $2.41 billion

Change

$163.7 million ($102.8 million)

State revenue collections dipped. Then they recovered. Funding for education has not.

Meanwhile, schools have more students. Districts have more mandates. And the cost of everything involved with providing an education has increased. The losses felt by districts during the last five years are not just one time cuts. They add up over time.

A joint statement from three leading education groups pointed out the shortcomings of this budget. Superintendent Barresi also commented on the budget agreement, noting that it “does not meet all the needs of school districts or account for the growing population of students in the state.”

Of course the needs that exist in education and other state services didn’t stop the Oklahoma legislature from passing another tax cut – one that won’t go into effect until after the next cycle of elections. This cut will result in yet another decline in state revenues, big breaks for corporations, and minimal benefits for families (about $80 per year).

Remember that the next time your legislator tells you he or she supports education.

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  1. May 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm
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