March 6, 2014

Limited Impact Expected in Oklahoma from Obama’s Education Proposal

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Nate Robson

Nate Robson

EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
March 6, 2014

President Barack Obama called for a 2 percent increase in federal education funding while unveiling his budget proposal Tuesday, but little benefit is expected in Oklahoma.

During his presentation, Obama requested $68.6 billion in discretionary education funding. The proposal included no changes in current Title 1 spending, which funds programs for students from low-income families, or special education. Both programs combined take up 39 percent of proposed federal education funding.

Obama also called for setting aside $300 million for a new round of competitive Race to the Top grants meant to reduce the achievement gap. The achievement gap refers to minority and low-income students often scoring lower on assessments when compared with white or middle class students.

It’s unclear how much of Obama’s proposal will survive in the Republican-controlled House. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, on Tuesday called the proposal a “campaign brochure.”

In the Tulsa Public Schools, Jill Hendricks, who oversees the districts federal programs and special projects, said flat funding for Title I and special education is better than cuts, but still adds pressure to the cash-strapped district.

The district received $8.5 million for special education in 2012, $8.6 million in 2013 and $8.2 million for 2014. The district received a letter from the Oklahoma State Department of Education saying cuts are expected for 2015.

Tulsa’s Title I funding decreased from about $17.5 million in 2012 to $15.5 million in 2014.

Title I funding is based on student poverty rates in each state. States with higher rates of poverty get a larger piece of the funding.

Data that will determine funding for 2015 is not available yet.

“If the percent of students living in poverty fell for the state as a whole, the ‘pie’ will be smaller for the state, which could result in a lesser amount of money for all districts,” Hendricks said.

Oklahoma may also be in a tough spot in terms of Race to the Top funding.

The state failed to get money from two previous grants, and the state could continue to miss out on that funding if legislation that passed the House Wednesday is also approved by the Senate and Gov. Mary Fallin.

House Bill 2911 would prohibit the state from ceding control of academic standards to the federal government or any outside groups, and would prohibit the state from collecting federal funds tied to its academic standards.

The bill’s primary focus is on protecting the privacy of student data.

Amber England, government affairs director for education advocacy group Stand for Children Oklahoma, said the House bill means Race to the Top funding would remain out of reach since the U.S. Department of Education looks at whether a state had adopted of the common core.

“Oklahoma probably would not be allowed to apply again,” she said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education referred questions about Obama’s proposal or future plans to pursue Race to the Top funding to Fallin’s office, which declined to comment.

Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org

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