Oklahoma Lags Far Behind In Education Funding

Wednesday, March 28th 2018, 9:28 am
By: Alex Cameron

State lawmakers have taken a step - and some would say a big step - toward addressing the chronic underfunding of Oklahoma's public schools.

But even with the tax package approved last week, Oklahoma has a long road out of the funding basement. Budget cuts have chipped away millions of dollars from education funding over the years.  

"The real simple way to look at this is, we are operating on relatively the same dollars as 2008, but with 50,000 more students," said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

Here's how the numbers break down:
Student enrollment in 2007-2008 was 641,000. This year there are close to 700,000 students.
Meanwhile, state aid funding has gone from a little more than $2 billion 10 years ago to $180 million less. 

"It's a pretty dismal situation," said David Blatt.

Oklahoma Policy Institute's David Blatt says most states cut education funding when the recession hit in the late 2000s, but many bounced back and have surpassed their 2008 funding levels, while Oklahoma still remains well below it.

Educate Oklahoma

"Oklahoma has cut state aid funding by twice as much as any other state over the last decade," he said. "We're down almost 30 percent, per pupil, adjusted for inflation."

By most education funding measures, Oklahoma gets a failing grade. In per pupil spending, Oklahoma is $3,000 below the national average and last in the region. When it comes to teacher pay, Oklahoma is last in the nation.

Oklahoma has never been a leader in education funding. The teacher walkout in 1990 was due to frustration over similar funding issues, but Blatt says this isn't because the state doesn't have the money, but because of where leaders put their priorities.

"Even when oil prices were $110 a barrel, we still weren't able to give teachers a raise because the priority those years were tax cuts and tax breaks," said David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Blatt say those decisions have come back to haunt state leaders as we now face an unprecedented teacher shortage.

Superintendent Hofmeister submitted a $2.9 billion budget request for fiscal year 2019, a $474 million increase over this year, hoping to turn the tide.

"The bottom line, you cannot have a competitive education for kids without teachers," Hofmeister said. "Until we address our teacher shortage by giving competitive compensation for our teachers - and that costs money - we are not going to be able to provide the needs of children."

Some Superintendents tell us one of the biggest impacts of reduced funding has been increased class sizes, because districts can't keep up with the growth.