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Great News! Oklahoma is #1!

September 12, 2013

I wanted to try using Great News! in the subject of a post to see if I like it. I don’t, but it makes me laugh a little. And on a day in which I’m reading that Oklahoma’s cuts to education funding are the deepest in the country, I need a laugh.

The Tulsa World reported this morning that Oklahoma is one of 34 states providing less funding per pupil now than in 2008. Of those states, six have reduced the dollar amount spent more than Oklahoma. None have reduced the percentage more. The article also discusses shortfalls in Federal education aid and the impact of SQ 766 on locally produced revenue:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ latest report, “Examining States’ Dramatic K-12 Education Cuts,” says that restoring school funding should be an “urgent priority” because of the serious consequences of steep state-level cuts on education reform initiatives and state and national economies.

“Local school districts typically have little ability to make up for lost state funding on their own,” analysts said. “As a result, deep state funding cuts lead to job losses, slowing the economy’s recovery from the recession. Such cuts also counteract and sometimes undermine important state education reform initiatives at a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to a country’s prosperity.”

All the state-by-state comparisons were made using inflation-adjusted dollar amounts and primary form of state aid to local schools.

Among the findings:

• Oklahoma tops the list of 34 states that are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit. Thirteen of those states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent.

•Only six states have reduced the dollar amount spent on students more than Oklahoma, where per pupil expenditures are down $810. Reductions ranged from $1,242 to $873 per pupil in Alabama, Wisconsin, Kansas, Idaho, New Mexico and California

•Oklahoma was also among the 15 states that has lower per-student funding for Fiscal Year 2014 than it did in the last fiscal year after adjusting for inflation.

When the Oklahoma State Department of Education released its initial state aid allocations in July for the current fiscal year, the actual dollar amounts were up $8.60 per pupil to $3,038.60.

State officials attributed much of the increase to the Legislature’s addition of $21.5 million for state aid this past session, but a number of factors are expected to reduce those figures when mid-year adjustments are made.

In addition to typical growth in the state’s public school population, schools across the state should also expect to see their state aid payments reduced in January because of the widespread tornado damage in multiple cities around the state this spring.

A voter-approved ballot initiative commonly referred to as State Question 766, which will exempt certain intangible properties from property taxes, will also reduce state aid to schools at mid-year.

While the share varies by state, nationally, 44 percent of all K-12 education spending comes from state funding, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For local school districts that can’t raise more local tax revenue to cover the gap, state aid cuts mean scaling back educational services.

Over the last several years, schools have also suffered significant cuts to federal funding. Since 2010, federal spending for Title I — the major federal assistance program for high-poverty schools — is down 12 percent after adjusting for inflation, and federal spending on education for the disabled is down 11 percent.

The report cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics in reporting that nationwide, there were 324,000 fewer jobs in local school districts in June 2013 than there were in July 2008.

For their part, the Washington Post wrote a little less on the same report (which originated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – a think tank). Their story does add another layer of information, however:

While the recession sliced off a sizable chunk of state revenues, those funds rebounded in absolute terms in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the latest available Census data. States raked in $794.6 billion in 2012, nearly $15 billion more than in 2008, unadjusted for inflation. (An inflation adjustment shows that the 2012 fiscal year tax haul is still lower than that of 2008, by about 6 percent.) Many states began their 2014 fiscal year in July.

They even included a graphic:

Decline in K-12 Spending

This is what frustrates me most about the cuts. State legislatures – Oklahoma included – have more money than they did six years ago, yet funding for education lags. The 2013 Oklahoma Legislature spent a record amount of money, but they took baby steps toward helping schools. Maybe the state superintendent and members of the legislature need some training in basic school finance. For their part, the Oklahoman plans to do a print edition only story on how these cuts have impacted specific districts tomorrow.

There are two reasons Oklahoma teachers haven’t had significant raises in six years. First is that the legislature isn’t putting more money into the schools in any meaningful way. Second is that the state salary scale hasn’t changed. Both of these things need to happen for anything to improve.

Maybe the answer is for the state to start viewing teachers as corporations and find tax loopholes for them.

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