Oklahoma continues to lead the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. After inflation, Oklahoma’s general preK-12 education funding per student is down by 24.2 percent since 2008, far more than any other state. Oklahoma’s total state appropriations for the support of schools is $173 million below what it was in fiscal year 2008, even before accounting for inflation and enrollment growth of more than 45,000 students.
The report also examined states’ total funding for education, including funds for transportation, teacher health benefits, and other funds for specific purposes. After inflation, Oklahoma’s total state funding for education is down by 15.3 percent per student since 2008, more than all but five other states. Local funding to schools has increased, but not by enough to make up for state cuts. Oklahoma’s combined state and local funding for schools per student has dropped 10.1 percent after inflation since 2008, a bigger cut than all but eight other states.
Oklahoma is one of only 12 states that continued to cut general support for schools this year, even as the national economy recovered. Between 2015 and 2016, Oklahoma’s state aid funding fell by another 1.6 percent per student adjusted for inflation.
The report also discusses research showing that reducing investment in schools weakens the economy in the long term. To prosper, businesses require a well-educated workforce. The budgetary savings from recent K-12 funding cuts may cost states much more in diminished economic growth.
“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 — so our kids get a strong education,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report.
The report found that four out of five states with the deepest cuts to education have also cut personal or corporate income tax rates since 2008. Another state that cut taxes deeply — Kansas — also has imposed large reductions in general school funding, but the precise size of those cuts cannot be determined because the state eliminated its funding formula earlier this year.
It’s clear that choices by Oklahoma lawmakers have put us this position. Lawmakers have scheduled another tax cut costing tens of millions next year, even as we’re expecting huge funding shortfalls for schools and all other services. Most other states are finding ways to improve education funding, while Oklahoma is digging a deeper hole.
Instead of investing in Oklahoma children, Oklahoma lawmakers are giving them teacher shortages, growing class sizes, and disintegrating textbooks. That will make it harder for the next generation of Oklahomans to compete for jobs, and it will deprive local businesses of a well-trained workforce and a strong customer base. If we don’t change the course we’re on, it’s a bad sign for our state economy.