However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down

Photo by Enokson / CC BY-NC 2.0
Photo by Enokson / CC BY-NC 2.0

Oklahoma’s investment in preK-12 education has plummeted in recent years. The state continues to rank worst in the nation for cuts to general school funding, according to a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.

Oklahoma’s per pupil funding of the state aid formula for public schools has fallen 26.9 percent after inflation between FY 2008 and FY 2017. These continue to be the deepest cuts in the nation, and Oklahoma’s lead is growing. On a percentage basis, we’ve cut nearly twice as much as the next worst state, Alabama.

It’s the third straight year that this report has shown Oklahoma leading the nation in cuts to general school funding, but state lawmakers have still not made any meaningful efforts to reverse the cuts. The report finds that Oklahoma was one of 19 states that continued to cut state aid funding per pupil this year, even as the national economy recovers. Between FY 2016 and FY 2017, Oklahoma cut per pupil aid another 2.9 percent after inflation, the fourth deepest cut in the nation.

Most states that made biggest K-12 cuts also cut income taxes

A majority of states that made the deepest cuts to their school funding formulas in recent years have cut personal or corporate income tax rates over those same years. A study by Oklahoma Policy Institute found that the total cost of Oklahoma’s cuts to the top income tax rate since 2004 has reached $1.022 billion per year. Based on the current proportion of the budget going to education, these tax cuts have resulted in a loss of $356 million annually from K-12 funding. Oklahoma’s state aid formula for schools has dropped about $179 million since FY 2008.


Total state funding and combined state and local funding are also down

The state aid formula where Oklahoma made the deepest cuts is the most important source of general operations revenue that schools use to pay teacher salaries and other basic expenses. The state aid formula is not the only source of revenue for schools. However, the Center on Budget’s report finds that Oklahoma is still among the worst states for cuts to total state funding and combined state and local funding. (Note: The report’s figures for total state and combined state and local funding only go through 2014, which is the most recent year that this data is available for all 50 states.)


These sharp cuts in funding for schools are being felt in the classroom. Average teacher salaries have dropped more than $7,700 after inflation since 2009 as Oklahoma loses experienced teachers to other professions and other states with more competitive teacher pay. Numerous Oklahoma districts have gone to a 4-day school week, which can especially harm the thousands of Oklahoma children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches to have enough nutritious food. Since 2010, the Legislature has suspended and never restored standards to keep class sizes low and to update textbooks and library materials.

Besides the harm to students today, these cuts to education are likely to weaken the economy in the long term. Quality elementary, middle, and high school education provides a crucial foundation that helps children to succeed in college and in the workplace. Much of the money they earn as adults is returned to the state economy through taxes, home purchases, and spending at local businesses. In addition, school budgets that force school layoffs or cut pay for teachers and other staff can reduce purchasing power and slow the pace of economic recovery.

The report, After Nearly a Decade, School Investments Still Way Down in Some States, contains the most recent data on school funding currently available. The findings are based on data gathered from state education agencies and budget offices and verified with education finance experts in each state.  The report also includes analysis of data from the Census Bureau.

β€œAt 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 β€” not less β€” so our kids get a strong education,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of the report released today.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

One thought on “However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down

  1. I have been forced to be back in OK to care for aging parents and I am ashamed to admit that I grew up in OK and went to school, as pitiful as it was, in OK. Most Americans have warm emotions about where they grew up. Not me, I am ashamed to claim to have ever been a part of the state. And, the current lack of positive action by the OK legislature for funding education is deplorable. But, OK is the epicenter for the basket of deplorables.

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