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Two-ish Things For the Rain

March 8, 2016

I have a new saying. Every million helps. It sounds kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Friday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education released figures to go along with the budget cuts that had been announced the day before. You can check this spreadsheet to see how a district near you has fared.

Since superintendents received their mid-term adjustments in December, more than $64 million has been cut from the funding formula. That doesn’t even count what districts are losing in Flex Benefit Allowance (health insurance) money that the state has also cut.

Finally, our state leaders acknowledge the rain.

1. Yesterday, Governor Fallin, at the urging of Superintendent Hofmeister and members of both parties in the Legislature, has requested some relief:

Governor Mary Fallin Proposes Rainy Day Fund Withdrawal for Schools and Prisons

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today proposed using the state’s savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, to partially offset last week’s deepened budget cuts to common education and prisons.

The governor suggested using $51 million for public schools and $21 million for the Department of Corrections. The Rainy Day Fund contains $385 million, of which $144.4 million is available to address the 2016 fiscal year revenue failure.

“Four-day school weeks and draconian cuts at prisons are not acceptable and are not going to happen. The deepened revenue failure cuts have changed the budget situation in a way that requires immediate action, so I support accessing the Rainy Day Fund for common education and prisons,” said Fallin. “This is the most responsible option available today to keep vital state services at acceptable levels until the Legislature and I reach agreement on the recurring revenues necessary to fund these services in the long run.

“We must put recurring revenues on the table this session, like I proposed in my executive budget, or we will be having this same problem next year, the year after that and years after that. The Rainy Day Fund option is a one-time fix, but we need to do the tough work to establish a permanent fix in the budget we pass this session.”

This will help. It won’t entirely fill the hole that we have this year, but it will help.

2. A bill passed last year has changed the way motor vehicle tax revenues are collected and distributed. This has caused huge swings in this particular funding stream for some districts. As the Tulsa World reports, Sand Springs is considering litigation over the way the Oklahoma Tax Commission has interpreted the law.

Gary Watts, chief financial officer and general counsel for Sand Springs Public Schools, said his district has lost $184,000 in motor vehicle taxes so far and could lose more depending on collections during the final months of this fiscal year.

“You have some districts being big gainers and others being big losers,” Watts said.

Because of the way the Tax Commission has distributed the money this year — basing it completely on a school district’s student population during some months rather than on previous years’ allocations — more than $9 million to date has “changed hands,” he said.

Tulsa Public Schools has lost nearly $1.4 million in motor vehicle taxes so far this year — the most of any district in the state — according to Watts’ calculations based on data provided to him from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Watts shared the calculations with his colleagues across the state.

So while some relief is coming in the form of the Rainy Day Fund, certain districts (including the one I lead), are dealing with huge losses on top of the state’s revenue failure. Hopefully, it won’t take litigation to fix this.

3. Bonus thing: there’s something horribly distasteful about sending robo-calls for vouchers (funded by an offshoot of Americans for Prosperity, posing as a grassroots organization) right after developing conscience and trying to placate us with Rainy Day Funds.

Please call your senator and ask him/her to vote no on SB 609. It will come up for a vote this week.

Please call your representative and ask him/her to vote no on HB 2949. It will also come up for a vote this week.

Remind them that we’ll be keeping score of those who truly support public schools.

Oh, and read Rob Miller’s blog from last night. He swings for the fences. There’s more rain headed our way. Keep watching for it.


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