Study: Oklahoma maintains streak of deepest state-aid cuts to schools since ’08 recession (Tulsa World)

By Andrea Eger

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows Oklahoma’s cuts to per-pupil funding for public schools are nearing 25 percent, by far the deepest in the nation since the economic recession struck in 2008.

Oklahoma is one of only a dozen states that continued to cut general support for schools this year even as the national economy recovered, according to the new analysis of state aid data.

After adjusting for inflation, analysts found that Oklahoma’s state aid to schools is 24.2 percent less for the current fiscal year than it was in 2008 — and that the margin between Oklahoma and the second-worst state has widened in the last year to 6.9 percentage points.

“Instead of investing in Oklahoma children, Oklahoma lawmakers are giving them teacher shortages, growing class sizes, and disintegrating textbooks,” said Gene Perry, policy director for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, who noted that 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.

“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,” he said.

Thirty-five states raised general funding per student in 2016, after adjusting for inflation. Leading the United States in per-pupil increases are North Dakota at 25.9 percent, Alaska at 18.2 percent, Washington at 16.5 percent, Connecticut at 13.4 percent and Pennsylvania at 13.2 percent.

New in this year’s Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report is an examination of states’ total funding for education, including funds for transportation, teacher health benefits and other funds for specific purposes. After inflation, it showed that Oklahoma’s total state funding for education is down by 15.3 percent per student since 2008, making Oklahoma better than only 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 in all but eight other states.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which works at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income individuals and families, says reducing investment in schools weakens the overall economy over the long term. To prosper, businesses require a well-educated workforce.

“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 and co-author of the report.

The report noted that four of the five states with the biggest cuts in general school funding since 2008 — Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho, and Wisconsin — also enacted large tax cuts, further reducing revenues in this period.

With dramatic revenue shortfalls projected for the foreseeable future, all state agencies in Oklahoma had been directed to present “flat budgets” for fiscal year 2017. But State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister included in her budget request an additional $47.7 million to support anticipated student enrollment growth, plus $30.3 million for increases in teacher health insurance costs, which are mandated by the Legislature.

The state Board of Education also approved an addendum request for $60 million that would cover $1,000 across-the-board pay increases for teachers, part of Hofmeister’s plan to increase teacher pay by $5,000 over the next five years in an effort to make Oklahoma more competitive with surrounding states in the teacher labor market.

Hofmeister is expected to present the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s next budget request before the state Senate on Dec. 15.

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