What the coming federal budget cuts mean for education in Oklahoma

Last summer, Congress agreed to automatic budget cuts as part of a deal to increase the federal debt ceiling. Commonly known as sequestration, these cuts would eliminate $1.2 trillion in spending over the next decade. The cuts will be divided evenly between domestic and defense spending. Instead of prioritizing which programs to cut, they would make across the board reductions to most discretionary and non-critical defense programs.

We discussed earlier what these cuts could mean for all of the federal funds going to Oklahoma. Now, new analyses from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Education Association (NEA) break down what they could mean for common education in the state. The programs that stand to lose the most funding are those that help Oklahoma’s most vulnerable students — high-poverty, special education, and very young students from low income families.

1) Title I – The biggest cut would be for Title I grants. These grants support schoolwide programs in schools where at least 40 percent of the students come from low-income families. Schools with less than 40 percent low-income students can receive targeted grants to help those students most at risk of falling behind. In 2011, Title I support went to almost every school district in Oklahoma. You can see the amount of funds going to each district here. The sequestration cuts to Oklahoma’s Title I programs are estimated to reduce funding by $13.3 million, affect more than 30,000 students, and eliminate 220 jobs.

2) Special Education – The next largest reduction would be special education grants, known as IDEA-B (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B). These grants support specialized services for students with disabilities. By federal law, schools must provide a a “free appropriate public education” to every child in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the child’s disability. This can require many expensive, specialized services — including individualized education programs, transportation, speech-language pathology, audiology services, psychological counseling, medical evaluations, and more. IDEA-B funds help schools to cover these costs, which can be several times greater than the cost for a student without disabilities. Under sequestration, Oklahoma’s IDEA-B funds would be cut by an estimated $12.1 million, affecting more than 7,000 special education students and potentially eliminating 200 jobs.

3) Head Start – The third largest cut would be to Head Start. This program provides comprehensive services to economically disadvantaged preschool children children and their families. The program has a special focus on helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need to be successful in school. In Oklahoma, Head Start programs are administered by Community Action agencies, private nonprofit agencies,  American Indian Tribes, and a school district. Cuts to Head Start would total an estimate $8.0 million, affecting about 1,100 students and costing 520 jobs in the state.

The sequestration cuts would impact numerous other programs, detailed in the chart above. Overall, they would cost Oklahoma an estimated $51.1 million, affect more than 100,000 students, and eliminate almost 1,200 jobs. They would cut resources for education at a time when schools are already struggling from four straight years of budget cuts or flat funding. Meanwhile, two state questions on the ballot in November would allow property tax breaks that cut funding even further. And some in the Capitol want to renew the push for more income tax cuts.

Despite the polls showing that Oklahoma voters are strongly opposed to reducing funding for education, the cuts keep coming from all sides.


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.

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