State aid to public schools in Oklahoma has fallen by more than $200 million since the 2008-09 school year, according to a report prepared by the chief financial officers of Jenks, Tulsa and Union school districts.

"This creates a very discouraging picture of how little public education is funded in Oklahoma," said Trish Williams, chief financial officer at Tulsa Public Schools. "State appropriations have most impeded our ability to provide educational services."

Oklahoma public education funding has languished well below regional and national averages for at least a decade. And Oklahoma has the dubious distinction of spending 22.8 percent less per student than it did in 2008, the highest percentage of any state in the nation, according to a national report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"We were already one of the worst per-student funded states in the nation in 2008 and we decided to cut it the most," said Debra Jacoby, chief financial officer for Union Public Schools.

The report's data is based on information from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and examines common education funding in Oklahoma, as well as the three districts. It also compares Oklahoma regionally and nationally.

Williams said legislators and the public often point out that Oklahoma has a lower cost of living, so comparisons with other states aren't relevant.

"That does not justify nor explain the regional disparities," she said.

The report shows Oklahoma's per-pupil expenditure of $7,631 falls short of the regional average of $9,247.

In the seven-state region in 2010-11, Kansas tops the list at spending $9,802 per pupil. Others include Missouri at $9,461, Arkansas at $9,496, New Mexico at $9,250, Colorado at $8,786 and Texas at $8,685.

However, those figures can be misleading because they include all revenue sources, such as bond issues, property taxes, state aid, and other local and county funds. The figures are determined that way to make every state comparable to one another, Jacoby said.

"The real truth is what we can pay teachers out of — and basically all of the employees — is out of the money we get per student from the state, which is basically $3,038 per student," she said.

Districts must also use that state aid to pay for utilities, building maintenance, security guards, textbooks, secretaries and other operating costs, Jacoby said.

State aid makes up about half of school districts' funding, while a combination of local ad valorem, county and federal funds make up the rest.

"State aid is the biggest player," Jacoby said. "If you want to make a difference in the amount per student, it has to happen with state money going up."

Per-pupil funding has fallen because fewer state dollars are allocated to the state aid funding formula for a greater number of students, Jacoby said.

Oklahoma public schools have added more than 38,000 students since 2008, the report shows. If Union were funded this year at the same per-student state aid amount as in 2008-09, the district would be getting about $5.6 million more in state aid this year, it says.

Under the same scenario, TPS would get $18.6 million and Jenks $4.2 million more in state aid than they did in 2008-09, the report says.

All educators are asking of state legislators is to return state aid to 2008-09 levels so school districts can hire more teachers and retain current teachers by giving raises, Jacoby said.

"We'd be doing what the community wants, which is stop our teachers from leaving the state for higher paying teaching jobs in states that provide more state aid to schools," she said.

Kim Archer 918-581-8315

Recommended for you