Oklahoma representative claims massive cuts to education spending are ‘fake news’

OKLAHOMA CITY – After a local school district announced that it is considering legal action against Oklahoma lawmakers, a Republican representative sent an email to lawmakers, dismissing the issues related to education funding.

Budget cuts over the past several years have negatively impacted numerous state agencies, including the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“I think it is unacceptable that we have four-day school weeks for our children. You’ve heard me say this but I have visited with major companies looking at moving jobs to our state and I’ve heard from several of them that tell me, ‘Governor, your state’s so poor you only fund schools for four days a week. How can I convince my employers, my businesses to want to come to your state when you won’t fund your schools? And I can’t find an educated, quality, skilled workforce if your people are uneducated in your state,” Gov. Fallin said in May.

Following the news of the budget shortfall in February, the State Board of Education revised the common education budget to reflect $50.2 million in cuts.

Officials say the adjustments were necessary, especially since the Oklahoma Board of Equalization also confirmed a $39.1 million shortfall to the Education Reform Revolving Fund.

Last month, Oklahoma City district leaders told NewsChannel 4 that school districts across the state are being forced to come up with their own money to pay for things like text books.

Over the past two years, officials say the budget for Oklahoma City Public Schools has been cut by over $30 million.

“We canceled textbook purchases, made cuts to arts, athletics [and] instructional materials from the school budgets. It devastated our schools,”Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora told News 4 earlier this month.

However, an email from a Republican representative says the cuts to education are simply “fake news.”

“I know there is a lot of talk about educational funding and the massive cuts we have caused education (fake news), but numbers don’t lie. I have included a link to the OCAS system (for verification) and you can see how we have increased funding per pupil every year since 2010. This is a great place to show your constituents when they say we have cut education. These aren’t our numbers these are the districts numbers calculated and reported to SDE. It takes away the argument, “well we have increased students”, because it takes the current expenditure and divides the students based on fall enrollment,” an email from Rep. Michael Rogers read.

Rogers, who was previously a principal before becoming a representative, sent the email to Republican legislators earlier this week.

The email directed lawmakers to the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System, which shows that the 2015-2016 per pupil expenditure was $8,093.38. That’s an increase of $15.44 from the 2014-2015 school year.

The chart shows that from the 2009 -2010 school year to the 2015-2016 school year, the per pupil expenditure increased by $160.93.

While that shows a promising picture for education, officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Education say there is more to the story.

They say that while spending has gone up in recent years, so have the costs associated with education.

“The Oklahoma Cost Accounting System factors in all sources of funding, not only state dollars, and the specific costs that make up Oklahoma’s per-pupil expenditures are required by state and federal law. It is important to put into context what those numbers represent. Costs for state-mandated expenditures like health insurance for certified and support staff have skyrocketed and account for more and more of the state-appropriated funds. Flex Benefit Allowance increases alone are $172 million since the 2009-2010 school year. Additionally, we are seeing greater numbers of students – such as English learners or students in special education — whose needs require additional financial resources. Without question, the funds that remain for students continue to diminish. Oklahoma’s average per-pupil expenditure is the lowest among our neighboring states,” a statement from Steffie Corcoran, executive director of communications with the Oklahoma State Department of Education, read.

The 2013 U.S. Census Bureau claims that Oklahoma is near the bottom for per pupil spending.

Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

In 2013, only two other states spent less on education per pupil than Oklahoma: Arizona and Idaho.