Funding for public schools in Oklahoma is a hot topic and for good reason. The State Department of Education (SDE) has issued a record number of emergency teacher certifications this year, and it seems each day brings a new story of teachers leaving Oklahoma for better pay in neighboring states. During the 2015 legislative session, many considered a flat budget for education a victory as the legislature was faced with a $611 million budget deficit. While this was likely a win for public schools, there was another decision made in January 2015 that negatively affected ad valorem-poor schools, as the SDE corrected an error in how state aid was calculated since 1998, some contend 1992. The net impact of this calculation change was that schools with lower valuation (ad valorem-poor schools) received a decrease in state aid than they had since 1998, while higher valuation districts (districts in counties with a percent valuation over 11%) received an increase in state aid.
*Please note one county district lost funds due to a negative change in enrollment.
*WADM stands for Weighted Average Daily Membership
Source: Oklahoma Department of Education State Aid Calculation Sheets of 12/29/14 and 2/2/15.
This is an important factor to consider as we look to the coming budget year. Last week, Governor Fallin issued an executive order requiring state agencies to prepare budgets with a 10% decrease in funding. While it is yet to be seen if such an across-the-board cut will be implemented or if another approach will be taken to balance the budget, it seems quite possible that public schools will face a cut in funding during the 2016 legislative session. Recognizing that ad valorem-poor school districts have already taken a financial hit during the past legislative session, I hope those at the capitol will consider how to soften the blow on schools already reeling from this calculation change this past year.
This week, the House Appropriations subcommittee on education will hold an interim study on charter schools. One of the topics is charter school funding, and speakers will address how charter schools are entirely dependent on state aid funding, as they do not receive ad valorem funding. In essence, charter schools are the poorest of ad valorem schools and given the possibility of funding cuts, charter schools are extremely concerned about their ability to operate given their already lower levels of funding.
As a part of this effort, I applaud the U.S. Conference of Mayors that recently unanimously passed a resolution supporting policies to improve public charter schools through school facility acquisition, funding and access. This resolution was led by Mayor Frank Ortis, Pembroke Pines, FL; Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento, CA; and, Mayor Kevin Johnson, Sacramento, CA.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett was even moved to speak out in support of this resolution and offered his local perspective. “Giving Oklahoma City students first-rate education options, including public charter schools, is critical to the success and growth of our city,” said Mayor Cornett. “We must work together to ensure we are providing quality schools that both meet our students’ diverse needs and that prepare them for lives as engaged, productive citizens. Despite their noteworthy success in places like Oklahoma City, charter school funding falls dramatically below traditional public schools. Therefore, I recently joined many of my fellow mayors in signing onto a national resolution by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to help improve public charter school funding and access to facilities for these schools. We want to start a national conversation that I personally hope begins right here in Oklahoma about the best way to educate our children in our ever-evolving world.”For more information about this resolution on public charter schools please visit their website or social media pages at usmayors.org. We also encourage you to visit and follow the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association for more information and resources related to public charter schools at okcharters.org.