State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has proposed raising the state’s base school operational funding to the level it was a decade ago.
If you’re looking for a statistic to capture perfectly how poorly the state addresses what should be its No. 1 priority, there it is. Oklahoma spent more on its basic support for public schools 10 years ago than it does today.
In the past two years, the Legislature has dramatically increased state funding to schools, but the lion’s share of the money was designated for only one critical element of school funding, teacher pay. That drove total school appropriations over $3 billion for the first time this year, but left everything other than teacher pay shortchanged.
Hofmeister’s budget request, approved by the state Board of Education Thursday, asks for an additional $220 million, $117.9 million dedicated to the state funding formula. School districts could use that money to start repairing some of the damaged caused by a decade of neglect. Beyond teacher pay, they could restore cut programs, reduce class sizes and hire additional teachers.
The budget request also includes $19 million for more school counselors. As a recent Tulsa World series showed, Oklahoma has the highest level of children with at least three adverse childhood experiences — critical indicators in a wide range of social ills in adulthood.
School counselors can be an important force to mitigate that challenge, but Oklahoma has far too few of them. The state’s high student-to-counselor ratio is 421 to 1. The American School Counseling Association’s recommended ratio is 250 to 1.
The Legislature’s efforts to raise teacher pay was a good first start for education, but it wasn’t the final word on the topic. Hofmeister is trying to teach lawmakers an expensive lesson on the rest of their responsibilities to Oklahoma’s schoolchildren.