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Oklahoma lawmaker responds to ‘fake news’ educational funding comments

OKLAHOMA CITY – After an email to Republican lawmakers was released to the public, an Oklahoma representative is speaking out and clarifying his comments.

“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.

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.

Officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Education 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.

Now, Rogers is speaking out and attempting to clarify his email.

Rogers says the email was in direct reference to false educational funding data that was released last spring by Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime and the Cooperative Council of State School Administration. The data, Rogers says, claimed Oklahoma cut education funding by $1 billion.

“When I first saw these numbers last spring, I reached out to Mr. Hime, asking him to show me numbers supporting his claim,” Rogers said. “He sent a breakdown showing how he used cumulative math to come up with the figure. Using the same method, I showed how the Legislature would be up nearly $2 billion dollars in education funding. When I asked if OSSBA and CCOSA would agree to use cumulative math for the future, the organizations agreed they’re (sic) method was inaccurate.”

Rogers says his reference to ‘fake news’ was solely in reference to the information sent by Hime.

In a news release sent on Friday, Rogers says that he fully understands the difficult state of educational funding across Oklahoma.

He says he has raised concern on rising health care costs and the effect it has on the formula factored into per-pupil spending.

“The Legislature could appropriate $30 million to $40 million per year more and schools would not see an increase in formula dollars, because the [Flexible Benefit Allowance for teachers, administrators and school staff] increase every year would eat it up,” Rogers said.

Rogers says he has met with the Oklahoma State School Board Association to put the FBA on the free market, but says the association does not support that move.

“They know it is a massive problem, and they know it is eating at the formula, but they would rather just blame the Legislature than sit down and make decisions to benefit students, schools, communities, and the state,” Rogers said. “I am always looking for an open dialogue on how we can improve education by pushing funding to the local districts and finding ways to get more money into teachers’ pockets and into the classroom. I will continue to fight for students and parents and won’t be bullied or silenced for wanting to have an open honest conversation on education funding and how we can improve it.”

The OSSBA released the following statement to News 4:

“OSSBA looks forward to continue working with Chairman Rogers and other legislators on solutions to the financial struggles facing schools. Oklahoma’s nearly 2,700 locally elected school board members have repeatedly affirmed OSSBA’s legislative goals of long-term funding plan for education and competitive teacher pay. Without those solutions, the teacher shortage will continue at a record pace, class sizes will continue to swell and districts will be forced to cut more classes. The path we’re on is unsustainable, and we believe parents, educators, community and business leaders and legislators must come together to develop solutions.”