OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt signed two education bills into law Wednesday that would change the state’s funding formula and expand the time students can transfer districts, while allowing districts to deny a transfer.
The two bills being signed left House and Senate Democrats fuming. They said on the surface it appears it will help, but in the end, they feel it will hurt school districts. Supporters, though, said the bills leave parents with a choice and help with what Stitt calls a “ghost student” problem.
“We think this is make-sense legislation,” Stitt said.
The bills were signed into law just hours after they passed the House. The one gaining the most attention is the changing of the state’s school funding formula. Currently, the amount districts receive is based on enrollment from the year before or the current year, whichever is highest. Moving forward, funds will only be based on enrollment from the previous school year.
“This bill makes efforts to have more accurate counts and is focused on the student,” said Rep. Kyle Hibert, R-District 29.
Supporters said the fix of the “ghost student” problem will come by preventing students who could be counted twice if they move districts.
“We have 700,000 physical students in our classrooms, but our school funding formula contemplates there being 755,000 students,” Hibert said. “We’re spending $200 million on 55,000 students that don’t exist.”
“The claim of 55,000 ghost students is false, it’s just not true,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-District 79.
The bill did not pass along party lines, however. Some Republicans were opposed along with State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. Hofmeister sent a statement Wednesday afternoon saying, in part, that “today marks one step forward and two steps back for public education.” She added that “children in rural Oklahoma deserve to have a high-quality education and HB 2078 potentially jeopardizes that.”
Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, also sent a statement Wednesday. She said, in part, that the change in the states funding formula will “result in hundreds of districts losing millions of dollars in state funding.” Provenzano said this is something that may become a reality in her district.
“The superintendents in my district say if this passes, we’re going to immediately have to start right-sizing our district, where our budgets are going to be cut and we’re going to have to start trimming our staff,” she said.
The other bill signed into law is backed by some parents who said their child specifically needed in-person education in a year when schools were closing due to the pandemic.
“It meant the world to me that someone who wasn’t even getting funding for my child took special interest in making sure he got education,” said Candice Jesky, whose son transferred districts.
Hofmeister also backed the legislation in her statement when she said the bill “holds real promise for many families and students.”
The bill changing the state’s funding formula isn’t set to go into effect until the 2022-2023 school year.
Other advocates for the legislation can be seen below, as well as the complete statements from Hofmeister and Floyd.
“Today marks one step forward and two steps back for public education. While Senate Bill 783 holds real promise for many families and students, House Bill 2078 unfortunately compromises any gains that would come with open transfers. Children in rural Oklahoma deserve to have a high quality education and HB 2078 potentially jeopardizes that. This bill removes financial safeguards meant to protect all students from the impact of abrupt changes in the local economy. Kids will lose when schools are forced to make sudden cuts in essential services and opportunities which provide access to a well-rounded education.”STATE SUPERINTENDENT JOY HOFMEISTER
“Today, the Senate majority rushed through legislation making major changes to Oklahoma’s public school funding formula. At a time when we are still battling the COVID-19 pandemic and school districts are transitioning back to safe in-school instruction, this legislation will result in hundreds of districts losing millions of dollars in state funding. Schools will be forced to lay off teachers and staff and cut resources for students. The biggest impact will be in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and in rural communities. Drastic changes to the funding formula will be disruptive to a stable learning environment and will have negative effects on students’ ability to learn. Instead of destabilizing budgets for already struggling school districts, the Legislature should invest in our public schools. This proposal adds no new funding for public school students. Instead of shifting funds between districts, the Legislature should increase funding so Oklahoma can match the regional average in per pupil spending. HB 2078 is the wrong approach for public education in Oklahoma. Our students deserve better.”SENATOR KAY FLOYD, D-OKLAHOMA CITY