Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oklahoma is #1 in School Funding Cuts in the Nation since 2008

“At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, states should be investing more — not less — to ensure our kids get a strong education.” Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report.

Welcome to a state that came through the recession in pretty good shape as our unemployment numbers never have been that high plus our sales tax revenues have been growing.  Why is Oklahoma cutting common ed funds so much when we have a huge surplus?  Look no further then what happens when a State Legislature and then the Governor and all State Offices become overwhelmingly Republican who are beholding to ALEC who is pushing charter schools so big donors can make money.  The GOP in Oklahoma has made a mess of education funding.

It is going to get worse when the voter-approved ballot initiative the GOP supported, State Question 766,  goes into effect in January which exempts certain intangible properties from property taxes.  At the mid-year in January school districts are going to be hit with a reduction in state aid thanks to the shortsightedness of Oklahoma voters who voted Yes on a ballot initiative pushed by ALEC and the rest of the usual suspects which seem to own Republicans today.  The Oklahoma Policy Institute had this to say:
Report: Oklahoma has made the deepest school funding cuts in the nation
by Gene Perry | September 12th, 2013
A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that Oklahoma has made the deepest cuts to school funding in the nation since the start of the recession. The report is a follow-up of last year’s study that showed Oklahoma’s per pupil spending cuts were third highest in the nation. 
Per student funding of Oklahoma’s K-12 education formula is down by 22.8 percent since 2008, according to the report. The percentage cut in Oklahoma is the largest of any state. It works out to a decrease of $810 per student, adjusted for inflation. 
Even though the state’s economy has emerged from the recession, per student funding continues to drop. In the most recent fiscal year, funding fell another 1.2 percent, or $33 per student. Though total state funding increased slightly for FY 2014, it was not even enough to cover rising enrollment and increased costs due to inflation.  
Total state appropriations for common education have fallen by $220 million since FY 2008. Results of these cuts have included rising class sizes, eliminated electives and advanced classes, and reduced funding for remediation programs to help students who are struggling to pass state-mandated tests. The report’s authors pointed out that reducing investment in schools also has long-term economic consequences.
Excerpt:  Read More at the Oklahoma Policy Institute 
Will someone tell what benefit comes from having a population of students who are graduating today from poor performing schools -- now there is going to be even less money starting in January.  Last year Oklahoma was #3 in cuts and this year they are #1 which is not a distinction that you would think the state would want, but so far crickets at the findings.  When are our media going to get as upset at this as they are at Sports Illustrated as I detailed yesterday?  Never mind, this is about education which is not real big with our media in Oklahoma City.  Tulsa World is a different story as they are covering this right away.

The legislature just had a special session on tort reform going back several years when the Courts overturned their bills.  That was so important that they had to do it now and cost the taxpayers money. From all accounts, debate was shut down on the bills in committee and on the floor.   Whatever happened to Freedom of Speech by our elected representatives if they happened to be on the opposite side of an issue in the Oklahoma Legislature.  I have said for years, it is not good for a state when one party dominates but frankly, as someone who supports education, I wouldn't mind seeing a lot more democrats and getting someone in the Governor's office who fully supports education.

This is abject failure on the part of the Legislature, the Governor, and the State School Superintendent. I cannot give them a pass because Oklahoma didn't suffer many losses during the recession.  Maybe if our legislature spent more time on education and less on social issues, Oklahoma wouldn't be #1 for the deepest funding cuts in common education since 2008.  Absolutely disgusting.  When are parents going to wake up and see that today's Republican Party is not about education but making sure that they listen to what ALEC tells them and funds charter schools so they can teach their own version of science and make sure the Bible is taught.  Whatever happened to Freedom of Religion which is your right to worship or not worship as you please not to have the Christian religion taught in taxpayer funded schools?

Last GOP State Convention I attended in 2009, the Platform required all teachers to teach the Bible and I asked the question which Bible since there are many different versions.  The answer "The Bible" which shows the type of people we are dealing with who some are now in our legislature.  That was my last GOP function as the lunge to the hard right is too much for many of us to handle.  One Representative who is voting on common ed is now home schooling his children so not to have them influenced in the public schools.  He is part of the earth is 5,000 - 7,500 years old group.

What happened to the Fund Education First that is supposed to be done in the State Legislatures so schools know how much money to count on for the next year.  In our legislature they usually pass it right before they adjourn which puts schools at a disadvantage.  A small state, they meet every year, pass a budget just as time is running out, and yet think they deserve reelection.  The sad part is that most Oklahomans don't pay attention to the shenanigans that go on in the legislature.  They only work officially from late January to first part of May and are considered full time state employees for health insurance.

Did I mention that teachers have not had a raise in years but because next year is an election year all of a sudden the State School Superintendent Barresi has recommended a $2,000 raise to make Oklahoma more competitive. How about State Employees?  She thinks giving them a $2,000 raise is going to make Oklahoma more competitive when average salaries are much higher in other states.
Classroom Teacher Salaries: The U.S. average public school teacher salary for 2011–12 was $55,418. State average public school teacher salaries ranged from those in New York ($73,398), Massachusetts ($71,721), and Connecticut ($69,465) at the high end to South Dakota ($38,804), Mississippi ($41,646), and Oklahoma ($44,391) at the low end (C-11).
Oklahoma did beat out South Dakota this time but coming in second is not something to be proud of when you are $11,000+ lower then the average across the Country.  Oklahoma has low teachers salaries and now made the deepest cuts in education since 2008.  How do you attract business to your state when the State Government is failing the public schools.

To add to all of this are the groups demanding that Common Core standards not be implemented in Oklahoma so if they get their way with the legislature any gains made over the years for a better education for all students in Oklahoma will go out the window.

When we were transferred from Texas, we moved to Norman, OK, because of the outstanding school system because the community values their schools.  There are only a handful of schools in Oklahoma I would have wanted my children to attend with Norman being #1.  It is a great school system with public and parent support with a Superintendent second to none.  Superintendent Siano is by far the best Superintendent I have ever seen in all the various schools districts my children have attended due to transfers from coast to coast.  No one runs a system better then Siano or plays the sax better.
Norman is one of the few progressive cities in the state and our schools attest to that forward thinking.

This scathing report should wake up Oklahoma State Government but I am not holding my breathe as it is more important to pass social issues here.  War on women is happening in Oklahoma like many states which is much more important along with giving tax breaks to the wealthy then concentrating on education and how we can make it better here in Oklahoma.   We need people elected to the legislature who support public education and are willing to fight to strengthen our education in every district in this State.  We should never be first in this category but then for such a small state we shouldn't have 520 public school districts either all with Administrators. Of those, 425 are independent school districts that first grade through 12th grade classes. The 111 dependent school districts serve students at lower grade levels; most offer first grade through eighth grade classes, but a few only offer classes through the sixth grade.

The legislature did approve $20,000,000 additional funding for schools but when you are funding 520 schools that averages out to $38,461.  Why isn't Oklahoma consolidating schools like many states did years ago?  Oklahoma cannot afford to have that many districts with that many administrators.

This chart below should be unacceptable to every voter in Oklahoma along with every parent but the sad part is that Education is not #1 in this state except in a few places where you have to stand in line to meet your student's teachers.

The Tulsa World also covered this story in addition to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, but I have been unable to locate a story from The Oklahoman, the arch conservative paper of Oklahoma.
Report: Oklahoma leads nation in cuts to per-pupil spendingBy ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer on Sep 12, 2013 
According to a new examination of education funding cuts since the recession began in 2008, Oklahoma leads the nation in largest percentage cuts to per-pupil spending at 22.8 percent.  
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ latest report, “Examining States’ Dramatic K-12 Education Cuts,” says that restoring school funding should be an “urgent priority” because of the serious consequences of steep state-level cuts on education reform initiatives and state and national economies.  
“Local school districts typically have little ability to make up for lost state funding on their own,” analysts said. “As a result, deep state funding cuts lead to job losses, slowing the economy’s recovery from the recession. Such cuts also counteract and sometimes undermine important state education reform initiatives at a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to a country’s prosperity.”  
All the state-by-state comparisons were made using inflation-adjusted dollar amounts and primary form of state aid to local schools.   
Excerpt:  Read More at the Tulsa World
Bottom Line is that the State of Oklahoma needs to do better but IMHO with the overwhelming Republicans in the Legislature who support ALEC that is not going to happen.  I will be happy to be proved wrong.

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