Oklahoma Rep. Jason Nelson calls education leaders disingenuous on state funding complaints
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2012
8/24/12 at 7:22 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - School administrators are being disingenuous to complain about receiving less state aid when districts have millions of dollars in their general funds, Rep. Jason Nelson told the state Board of Education at its regular meeting Thursday.
"If you didn't spend from your savings account money at the depth of the worst recession in decades ... I'm not buying that argument," he said.
Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, presented documents from the Oklahoma State Department of Education showing that the state's 522 districts held back just more than $676 million last year in their general funds.
Yet, some have complained that state aid allocations were $64 million short, he said.
"Where's the fire?" he argued.
While he didn't specifically aim his argument toward any particular school district or region of the state, Nelson's news release announcing he would speak to the state board stated that he would address "recent complaints from Tulsa-area public school superintendents about initial state aid allocations and funding levels for school districts around the state."
Nelson said he would like administrators to answer two questions: How much money is enough and how much money ought to go to the classroom?
"I've never gotten answers," Nelson told the board, adding that as a lawmaker he doesn't want to provide more money to schools until those questions are answered and a discussion has begun among all shareholders.
He said some administrators have said those funds were encumbered, but regulations show they are not.
"I think what you're saying is we've heard excuses for years. The kids come from poverty or they can't learn as well," said board member Bill Price of Oklahoma City. "All those things are myths and excuses and now we're hearing that we can't do these things because we don't have enough money. Those are excuses, too."
Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow was at the meeting, but couldn't rebut Nelson's argument because Nelson spoke during the public comments section.
"I had to sit on my hands," he said. "General fund balances are critical to providing stability in a very unstable environment."
Snow said every year, schools must guess what their state aid allocations will be. This year, school administrators were surprised when they received less than they thought they would.
Because the state Legislature allocated the same amount for state aid to schools as they received for last year, school officials were expecting similar dollar amounts in their initial state aid notices for 2012-13. But the education department withheld nearly $64 million, or 3.52 percent, of all state aid, compared to the $41 million, or 2.26 percent, it kept in reserve at the beginning of 2011-12 for anticipated growth, namely at virtual schools and new charter schools.
Traditional school districts stand to receive whatever amount of that reserve is left over at the midpoint in the year, when funding adjustments for student enrollment growth or decline are typically made.
Snow said there is much more to the story than just districts hanging on to their money for no reason.
"There's a little truth in everything, but my financial officer and I plan to come sit down with (Nelson) and explain it to him. He's coachable," he said. "It's a little disingenuous to say, 'Oh they're fussing about this and they've got money.' There are rational reasons for this. I literally think we have to have some clarity on this issue."
In other business, the board approved recommendations to provide a waiver for a Tulsa student to allow that student to graduate from high school.
Oklahoma high school seniors must pass at least four of seven exams to get a high school diploma.
Two other students, one from Sapulpa and another from McLoud, were denied exceptions to the graduation requirements.
Original Print Headline: Legislator discounts complaints by districts
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Rep. Jason Nelson: Regarding school funding, he says: "Where's the fire?"