Okla. Department Of Education: More Than $1 Million Could Be Cut From Rural, Low-Income Program


Monday, March 2nd 2020, 9:19 pm
By: Erick Payne


The State Department of Education said more than $1 million could be cut from the Rural and Low-Income School Program in Oklahoma.

The Muskogee School District Superintendent said state leaders called him Friday to let him know their district would take a hit. He said they'll lose $321,000.

Hundreds of school districts across the state, many in rural areas, have received tens of thousands of dollars through the Rural and Low-Income School Program.

The U.S. Department of Education said changes to the eligibility requirements means dozens of schools will no longer get money.

Muskogee Schools Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said it directly affects students in low-income families.

"We have 80% of our students on free and reduced lunches here in Muskogee," Mendenhall said.

For districts to get funding, they needed to use data from the census to see if more than 20% of the area's school-age children live below the poverty line.

For nearly two decades, the U.S. Department of Education allowed schools to use the percentage of students who qualify federally for free and reduced meals, which schools said is more accurate than the census.

"It's better to use the number for free and reduced because you actually get the families and students. A lot of times in rural, the census is hard to capture everybody," Mendenhall said.

Now the federal government wants that to stop, although they agree the census isn't the best measurement.

Mendenhall said in the past, they've used this money mainly to pay for staff.

Noble School Board Member Erika Wright said this change won't affect her district, but her work with the OK 4 Day Schools Coalition shows it will hurt cash-strapped rural districts across Oklahoma.

"It does seem trivial and small to them, but obviously $30,000 to us is a teacher's salary and one more classroom open," Wright said.

The state superintendent wrote a letter to the U.S. education secretary urging them to not go through with it.

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