AS sure as night follows day, midyear adjustments to school districts' funding have left some administrators unhappy. For the most part, their griping is unwarranted.
The state's funding formula has a simple premise: If student enrollment increases, so does state funding at a district. If enrollment declines, so does state funding. Money follows the child, with a little more cash allocated for low-income students and those who use English as a second language, etc.
Allocations are adjusted midyear as firm enrollment numbers are established. There's nothing ominous about the process. But that hasn't stopped some school officials from suggesting otherwise. In particular, several were upset that virtual charter schools (which are public schools) get state funding.
Trish Williams, chief financial officer at Tulsa Public Schools, notes the financial pie “is only so big.” But even without the handful of virtual charter schools, that pie would still be divided among more than 500 districts. Tulsa loses funds when students transfer to neighboring brick-and-mortar districts. Why should the process be different for those getting a public education through a virtual school option?
Donna Campo, superintendent at Liberty, argues virtual schools should get less state aid because they don't have the same infrastructure expenses as traditional schools. But school buildings are locally funded with property tax. Not one district in Oklahoma gets state appropriations for that purpose. Campo's complaint is without merit. If anyone is at a funding disadvantage, it's charter schools operating without local property tax support, not their traditional counterparts.
Williams referred ominously to online charter schools as “for-profit entities.” Bixby Superintendent Kyle Wood described online schooling as “big business.” But Oklahoma's brick-and-mortar schools expend billions annually. That's not big business? Williams, Wood and other administrators don't volunteer their time. Many superintendents have a six-figure income; some are paid more than the governor.
More importantly, for-profit entities must please customers to survive — in this case, students and parents. Virtual charter schools can be closed if they fail to generate academic results. The same can't be said for traditional schools. Williams works for a Tulsa school system where more than half the district's schools got a D or an F on their state report card. None faces closure as a result.
Administrators are correct when they note total student enrollment has increased while total state funding remained the same, reducing the amount spent per-student. But midyear adjustments and the long-established state funding formula are unrelated to that discussion.
The administrators' complaints suggest they think some public school students deserve equitable funding but others don't. That's a recipe for unjust discrimination against some public school students that would have no public benefit while generating (likely successful) lawsuits.
Oklahoma families are drawn to online learning for many legitimate reasons, ranging from problems with bullying at local schools to the need for greater course selection and customization of learning. We shouldn't deny those public school students educational opportunities because some administrators are upset at the idea of competition or the realities of life in the 21st century.
If traditional public schools worry about losing students to virtual schools (or at least losing the associated state funding), there's a solution: Provide an educational product just as good so families don't feel the need to seek alternatives.