No more excuses … Oklahoma’s school funding problem needs fixed now

No more excuses … Oklahoma’s school funding problem needs fixed now

We all like to talk about the importance of schools. We like to say we value our children and the education they receive.

Sure, saying those things makes us feel good when we are standing by the watercooler visiting with our co-workers or when we go out to the mailbox and talk to our neighbors across the street.

However, for most of us, the train stops there. All talk, no action.

For myself, that stops right now.

As I sat and listened Monday at the January Board of Education Meeting, Jenks Public Schools’ Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Cody Way gave an update on the “Midyear Allocation” from the State of Oklahoma.

What he said was not only stunning it was borderline disturbing.

Allow me to show you some numbers from the State of Oklahoma’s “Midyear Allocation” to its 549 school districts.

Jenks Public Schools’ “Midyear Allocation” was cut nearly $2.7 million. Union Public Schools was cut nearly $3 million. Broken Arrow was cut slightly above $5 million. Owasso Schools was cut slightly above $2.6 million. Bixby was cut roughly $1.8 million and Tulsa Public Schools was cut around $8.8 million.

That is State of Oklahoma aid money to these forementioned school districts that was projected back in the summer.

It’s not just a Tulsa-area problem either.

Oklahoma City Public Schools’ “Midyear Allocation” funding was cut around $8.9 million. Edmond Public Schools was cut $7.8 million. Moore Public Schools was cut $5.6 million. Norman Schools was cut $4 million. Mustang was cut just under $3 million and Yukon Public Schools was cut $1.9 million.

As troubling as those numbers are, we haven’t even gotten to the part that will turn your stomach.

Did you know that the virtual charter schools are not receiving any cuts to their “Midyear Allocation” funding? Not only are they not being cut, like most school districts across the state, they are benefiting in a massive way.

Epic One on One Charter received a hike of $nearly $93 million. Epic Blended Learning Charter received just under $63 million.

Yes, between the two Epic virtual charter schools, they are receiving more than $150 million in the “Midyear Allocation”.

Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy received a raise of around $6.4 million and E School Virtual received a hike of roughly $4.4 million.

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In June of 2020, Jenks Public Schools approved the budget for this fiscal year, the district projected a $2.5 million reduction in state aid for fiscal year 2020-2021 based on the legislative appropriation. However, the state aid allocation has been reduced by $4.065 million with the latest cut at mid-year. 

Schools like Jenks are seeing their state aid allocations being cut by millions of dollars, while the virtual charters make bank off the state.

Why is this happening, you ask?

The State of Oklahoma is using a formula that was created before virtual charters were in existence and they are taking advantage of the system.

“Currently, those students in a virtual platform, receive the same weights in our state aid formula as students in a brick-and-mortar environment,” Way said Monday after the School Board meeting. “They (virtual charter schools) don’t have the same cost structure. Those weights are supposed to identify cost to educate a specific subgroup. We also provide our students transportation, we feed our students, and we have extra-curricular activities. In a brick-and-mortar setting, there a lot more costs between facilities, the upkeep, insurance, etc.”

There are those that would argue it is cheaper to educate virtually and that is what every school district should move toward in the future.

However, what are we putting the value on here when that statement is made? Do we want the cheapest way to educate our students or do we want the most effective way to educate our students?

“That money is there to educate our students,” Way said. “What is the best use for tax-payer dollars? It’s not there for people to make a profit. That money is there to educate students. Their (virtual charters) cost structure is a lot less, but they are funded using the exact same method as other schools. It is taking a lot of funding away from brick-and-mortar schools.”

Jenks Public Schools is expected to receive an estimated amount from the stimulus package recently approved by congress between $4.4 million to $4.5 million, which will be used over the course of the next two and half years.

Superintendent Dr. Stacey Butterfield said that money won’t solve every financial issue the district might run into in the coming months.

“We are going to have to align our expenditures with the revenue,” Butterfield said after Monday’s meeting. “Keeping in mind, we set our budget back in July and yet here we are. I don’t want to sound the alarm, we hope to avoid reducing personnel, but that is where this Cares Act money is so important because it is going to help fill some of these gaps. The formula needs to be adjusted to reflect today’s educational system. As our educational system has evolved, our funding formula needs to evolve as well.”

Kyle Salomon

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