Oklahoma cuts public school funding by $47 million

Sean Murphy, Associated Press
AP Writer

(AP) — Some Oklahoma school districts could be forced to close their doors as a result of about $47 million in funding cuts due to the state's budget crisis, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said Thursday.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to accept the recommended funding cuts of about 3 percent of the current fiscal year's school budget.

Hofmeister, a first-term Republican, said while it's difficult to know how each district will handle the cuts, schools that rely heavily on state funding and districts with depleted reserves will be most affected.

"We do know that some school districts are going to have a very difficult time remaining open," she said.

While it's too early to tell which districts may be forced to shut down or consolidate, department spokesman Phil Bacharach said it's possible some could happen before the end of the current school year.

Rather than impose across-the-board cuts, Hofmeister recommended a budget that imposes reductions to specific programs in order to cushion the pain for schools that use the per-student formula.

Deeper cuts were implemented for advanced placement teacher training and test-fee assistance (55 percent reduction), staff development for schools (50 percent) and school lunch matching funds (30 percent). Money for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, education initiatives was completely eliminated.

"It is hard to imagine a scenario where students will not be negatively impacted with these particular cuts at this point in our academic year," she said.

Mid-year cuts are difficult because districts already are committed to funding teacher salaries and other programs and services for students, according to Norman Public Schools Superintendent Joe Siano.

His 16,000-student district will be able to absorb most of the cuts by tapping into its reserve fund, he said, but it will cause problems in the coming budget year, when the Legislature is projected to have about 12 percent less money to dole out overall.

"Next year you're going to see even greater challenges because these reserves will have been drained," Siano said.

Hofmeister said it's possible that additional cuts could be ordered in the spring if a revenue failure is declared for separate funds that are dedicated to public schools.


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