Educating school-age children is the state of Oklahoma’s biggest responsibility. But in recent years, our investment in education has been on a severe decline. Since 2008, Oklahoma has made the third largest cuts to per pupil spending in the nation, behind only Arizona and Alabama.
Faced with an avalanche of criticism from parents and schools over these cuts, lawmakers are claiming to have boosted education funding for 2014. The proposed budget does include additional money to cover rising health care costs and various education reforms. However, it would provide little new support for the most basic budget needs of schools.
Money going into Oklahoma’s state aid funding formula has not kept up with inflation or rising enrollment for half a decade. The formula increase that lawmakers have proposed for FY 2014 is just $21.5 million, a small fraction of what has been cut since 2008 even as enrollment has increased by more than 30,000 students. Formula funding will remain $200 million below six years ago.
This failure of education spending to keep up with inflation and population growth matches the state budget as a whole. But besides the overall pie being smaller, lawmakers have also reduced the slice for education. The share of the budget going to common education hit a new low this year, and under the proposed FY ’14 budget, it would drop even further.
In FY 2014, common education is slated to receive the lowest share of the budget since at least FY 2000 (and likely the lowest share since 1992 when HB 1017 was implemented). The numbers charted above actually understate the situation, because they do not take into account the income tax revenues that previously went to the General Revenue Fund and now go directly to the ROADS fund for highway repairs. This fund, created in 2006, will receive $352 million in FY 2014; if that amount was added to the $7,114 million appropriated budget, common education’s share of the budget drops to 32.2 percent.
In a recent Journal Record profile, Gov. Mary Fallin was quoted as saying that the education reforms passed in 1992 (HB 1017) were what first made her interested in running for office. For a time, that bill significantly boosted our state’s support for education. Yet the past decade has undone those gains. Lawmakers continue to say they believe in prioritizing education, but their actions have not matched their words.