Feb. 19, 2021

‘Now is not the time’: OKCPS on Proposed Legislation

A controversial school funding bill supported by Gov. Kevin Stitt sailed through the House this week, setting off a firestorm of opposition from education advocates, school finance officers and superintendents. In essence, House Bill 2078 would require districts to use student enrollment from the current or prior year to calculate its state aid. Right now, districts can use the higher of the preceding two school years.

If the bill had been in effect this year, Oklahoma City Public Schools’ state aid would have been reduced by more than $7 million. Sean McDaniel, superintendent of OKCPS, answers some questions about the proposal.

Q: How would the bill impact OKCPS? 

A: Unfortunately, this bill adds no new money to the education budget. In a state that remains last in the region in per-student spending, we should not make funding changes that create winners and losers. Shifting money from one district to another means some students always end up with less. That’s why conversations about improving the formula must always focus on ensuring no students suffer harm. The current formula ensures short-term budget stability for the benefit of all students. 

State aid funding for schools is highly dependent on the state’s economy, which shifts over time and often unpredictably. This has historically led to significant budget reductions. This bill would impact OKCPS by providing less stability during unpredictable times. It may require the District to utilize CARES funding for budget stability versus its intended use for unexpected COVID-19 expenditures, education remediation and recovery.

Q: Are you concerned about the bill? 

A: Yes, this legislation alters an important budget stabilization mechanism that schools have relied upon for decades. School districts across the state and country have spent the better part of a year responding to unprecedented circumstances created by a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. Now is not the time to make drastic changes to destabilize school budgets while school districts and the families they serve are still reeling from the impact of COVID-19. Any changes to the state aid funding formula should be well-researched and implemented in a way that would minimize the negative impact to any district’s student funding.  

Q: You said the district is prepared to address a funding shortfall while protecting the classroom. What do you mean?

A: This legislation would result in an immediate budget hit for OKCPS. However, through careful planning and wise budgeting practices, the district is committed to protecting classroom teachers and programming for our students and families. Among other things, this may require a redirection of additional CARES funding for operational costs versus prioritizing its use for COVID-19 related expenditures, and education remediation and other recovery efforts.

The full story will be up at Oklahoma Watch this weekend. —Jennifer Palmer

Around the web

  • ‘Kids need to be in school:’ In-person Learning in El Reno, Oklahoma [StateImpact Oklahoma]
  • Teacher vaccines beginning across Oklahoma, while most Tulsa County teachers still waiting for allocations [Tulsa World]
  • In-person classes. Old buildings. Almost no COVID. Are Philly Catholic schools a blueprint? [Chalkbeat]
  • As the U.S. continues its campaign to immunize every eligible American adult, we explore an overlooked question: When will children get the vaccine? [Listen to The Daily podcast]

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