Oklahoma school cuts among nation's highest
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, September 09, 2012
9/09/12 at 6:06 AM
Only two states have cut their per-pupil school budgets by a bigger proportion since the recession began than Oklahoma, according to a national report, but there's more to the story than that, state education leaders say.
Oklahoma's per-pupil spending went down $706 between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2013, a 20.3 percent decline, according to the analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
But state education leaders questioned the report's statistics and its conclusions.
State Superintendent Janet Barresi said the report's headline statistic isn't the best way to compare the commitment of states to school programs.
"Per-pupil funding is not necessarily a good yardstick for success," she said. "Some of the lowest-performing school systems in the nation also have the highest per-pupil funding."
Overall funding levels for education from all sources, including Oklahoma Land Commission money and local and state revenue, have generally been on an upward trajectory for more than half a decade in Oklahoma, and as a share of the state budget, funding for K-12 education in Oklahoma has remained stable, taking up about a third of the state budget, she said.
Sen. John Ford, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, also had doubts about the report.
"I don't believe it reflects the true picture of education in Oklahoma and what's happening," said Ford, R-Bartlesville.
Ford pointed out that fiscal year 2013 school funding isn't fully in place yet and that the report appears only to consider state aid funding and excludes more than $55 million the state has given schools outside of the funding formula in the past two fiscal years, he said.
Government funding to Oklahoma schools - local, state and federal - is up from 2008 to 2011, the last year for which complete figures are available, Ford said.
Aaron Cooper, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said she is a strong supporter of education and teachers, and this year she fought for and won the annualization of funding for teacher health benefits.
"In regards to education funding, studies have shown increased spending doesn't necessarily translate into better academic results," Cooper said. "Instead, the governor feels Oklahoma can achieve the best results by focusing on initiatives that help redirect more education dollars into the classroom."
But the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers professional organization, said state funding for schools has to become a greater state priority.
"For the past few years, the common education budget has been slashed by 20 percent. This is unacceptable," said OEA President Linda Hampton.
Full funding must be available for the major reforms and changes public schools are undergoing, such as the Common Core State Standards and the new Teacher Leader Effectiveness evaluation, she said.
"Implementing major reforms without funding sets our schools and students up for failure," Hampton said.
Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, said he is troubled by the report and the evidence it offers that state support for schools is going down dramatically.
Cannaday, a member of the House Common Education Committee, said Republican education policymakers have been deceptive about how much money is going to schools, have eliminated important school reform efforts of the past and have found a variety of ways of encouraging students to leave the public school system.
The result is that schools operate without adequate funds while facing higher mandates and a constantly changing set of state rules, he said.
Original Print Headline: Oklahoma school cuts among nation's highest
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
State Superintendent Janet Barresi: "Per-pupil funding is not necessarily a good yardstick for success." PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND / The Oklahoman file