School officials reacted with concern Thursday after the release of a report that shows Oklahoma leads the nation in the percentage of spending cuts per student since the recession began in 2008.
Oklahoma has slashed per-pupil spending by 22.8 percent, according to the report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.
Expenditures have been cut $810 per student in Oklahoma, one of 34 states providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.
The state currently spends $3,038 a year on each student.
The authors called the state-level cuts a threat to education reform initiatives and national economies, and said restoring school funding should be an “urgent priority.”
“The need is greater than ever for us to replace our retiring teachers and address continuing growth by hiring additional teachers,” said David Goin, superintendent of Edmond Public Schools. “I'm hopeful our leaders will see fit to reverse the trend of decreasing the percentage of the state budget going to the education of Oklahoma children.”
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said she had not reviewed the report, which used inflation-adjusted dollar amounts and primary form of state aid to schools to make the state-by-state comparisons.
A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin questioned the accuracy of the report, saying it is unclear whether it reflects a $90 million increase in education funding approved by the governor for fiscal year 2014.
“Having looked at the study, we're uncertain about the methodology and how they drew the conclusion they did,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director.
Weintz said education remains a “priority” for the governor, who cut education spending by 4.1 percent in 2012, a $97 million decrease in funding for common education, he said.
While the share varies by state, nationally, 44 percent of all kindergarten-through-12th-grade education spending comes from state funding, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
For local districts that can't raise tax revenue to cover the gap, cuts to state aid mean scaling back educational services.
“School boards across the state are at the point where they have to look at making cuts to instruction or increasing the number of kids in a class,” said Julie Miller, deputy director and general counsel for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“That makes it difficult for the teacher to work with the student on an individual basis.”
In the Oklahoma City and Norman public school districts, increasing enrollment has forced administrators to cut staff and services while increasing class sizes.
“Our overall dollars have decreased, even with the additional students,” said Sandra Park, deputy superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“We're trying to figure out how to hire more staff, including teachers. On top of that we're facing more mandates, so we need to do things like hire test coordinators and academic coaches.”
Steven Crawford, executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, said lawmakers need to restore funding levels for common education to pre-recession levels.
Cuts made to other state agencies made when the recession hit have since been restored, he said.
“The governor has to make it a priority, and she says she's an education governor,” he said.
“If that's the case and this is an education administration, we would hope that funding is a priority for them.”