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On Numerators and Denominators and the Reckless Redistribution of School Funding

Last week, during debate over HB 2078, Sen. Greg Treat (R – OKC) waxed nostalgic over his  younger days when he was a mathlete in school. In discussing the way he feels school funding should be distributed, he made sure we all understood numerators and denominators. 

I felt like I was watching a scene from Real Genius, which I probably did later in the week. I mean, the movie holds up so well all these years later.

Not many people know this, but I too was a mathlete back in the day. In today’s political climate, I think my teachers probably would have been forced by law to reveal that information to my parents if they suspected it. Sure, I had a C in Algebra, but I did have all those MathCounts trophies.

I’m digressing, but in my defense, it’s early, and I didn’t think I was going to be writing this morning, but a major piece of legislation dropped last night. The bill, a committee substitute for HB 2755, is scheduled to be heard this morning in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is on the agenda for 10:00. 

In simple terms, the bill has two impacts:

  • Beginning July 1, money from building funds and all local- and state-dedicated revenue except bond issues would be shifted from traditional school districts to charter schools based on the number of students who live in their district but attend a charter. 
  • Virtual charter schools would receive only state aid and state-appropriated dollars.

On the surface, that seems pretty harmless, but since I’m a (former) mathlete, I’m still thinking about those darn numerators and denominators. Or maybe, since I’m a superintendent, I’m thinking about the fact that our local revenue only goes so far and that dividing it further (by adding more to the numerator), has a deleterious effect on **checks notes** oh yeah, every other school district in the state. 

Maybe you’re somewhere far away from Oklahoma City or Tulsa, and you’re thinking that this bill really won’t impact your local school district. After all, you are several counties removed from any physical charter school. And they seem to have carved out an exception for virtual schools. Keep in mind, though, that statewide blended charter schools draw students from all 77 counties. Besides, anything that draws down from the funding formula impacts all districts.

Yes, my friend, you’re in this too.

This bill, in a sense, codifies the surprise settlement that the State Board of Education – against advice of their legal counsel – made a few weeks ago. Ostensibly, the problem this solution is solving is the disparity between per pupil funding for traditional public schools and for charter schools. Rather than being additive, it is divisive. 

They’re taking the same dollars and spreading them around further. Not very mathletic of them, is it? Among reasons I oppose this bill:

  • Local property tax as a funding source exclusive to the local school district is a fundamental piece of Oklahoma school finance enshrined in the Oklahoma Constitution. 
  • Public school districts do not have excess building funds they can afford to lose, and any shifting of dollars will hurt students.
  • Charter schools do not have locally elected boards that taxpayers can hold accountable for spending decisions.  
  • There are better mechanisms to fund capital needs of charter schools *and* public school districts that receive little ad valorem revenue. Oklahoma is one of only four states that doesn’t provide state funding for school capital improvements.
  • Shifting limited funding from one underfunded school district to another isn’t a solution.

If this disparity suddenly concerns our legislature, there is a better way to fix it. Instead of dividing already scarce resources, they could find a way to add to charter schools without taking away from the rest of us.

By the way, this is a central part of the governor’s re-election campaign plan. If you don’t believe me, see below:

The state board decision, the bills that passed last week, and even the legislative efforts to kneecap the State Auditor and Inspector’s investigation of Epic, are all part of a coordinated plan to run the Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos, and OCPA agenda of dismantling public education. Sadly, many of the well-meaning legislators who we elected because of their professed support for public schools are taking the bait and following along.

Be heard and be seen fighting for our students. There’s a way to fix the funding disparity without lowering the bar.

Below are the senators on the Appropriations Committee. Please reach out to them and ask for a no vote on HB 2755.

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