Oklahoma Rural School Districts Could Lose Some Funding

Monday, March 2nd 2020, 12:07 am

Dozens of school districts in Oklahoma could lose some funding after changes to a federal program.

More than 800 schools across the country are at risk of losing thousands of dollars, according to a New York Times report.

Hundreds of Oklahoma school districts have received tens of thousands of dollars through the Rural and Low-Income School Program.

The report was published at the start of the weekend, so it's too early to tell which districts are subject to losing funding.

Some school leaders said they were notified in writing that their district would be affected last Friday.

Records from the U.S. Department of Education show funding adds up to millions of dollars across the state, but some of that could be cut due to bookkeeping.

Noble Public Schools board member Erika Wright works with many rural districts as the founder of the Oklahoma Four-Day School Coalition.

"This really has the potential to be something that could be catastrophic for the health of our rural schools in Oklahoma," Wright said.

The way districts receive funding comes via Census data to see if more than 20 percent 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 is a more accurate measure than the Census.

Now it seems the federal government wants that to stop.

"It does seem trivial and small to them, but obviously 30-thousand dollars to us is a teacher’s salary and one more classroom open," Wright said.

Wright said her district wouldn't be impacted, but she's especially concerned about schools with four-day weeks, which she said are already cash-strapped.

Wright worries this change could pile onto the problem.

"To say that because it's not millions of dollars, it doesn't matter. It definitely matters to these small communities who are already hanging onto everything they can," Wright said.

We reached out to the State Board of Education and program coordinator but haven't heard back.

Some lawmakers said they've already heard from concerned school district leaders.

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