Oklahoma’s ‘ghost student’ funding measure enacted | Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY – A controversial bill that attempts to exorcise “ghost students” from the state’s school funding formula advanced in the state Senate on Wednesday despite bipartisan opposition. Governor Kevin Stitt promulgated it a few hours later.

State Senator Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, said the current law bases the district’s initial allocation on the higher of the average daily number of students from the previous two years. The mid-year adjustment is based on the previous two years or the first nine weeks of the school year, whichever is greater.

His bill drops to one year. The mid-year adjustment now takes into account the count from the previous year or the first nine weeks, whichever is greater, he said.

“Let’s not complicate the problem too much,” Taylor said. “This is a very basic reform, very sensible for the Oklahoma taxpayer.”

But State Senator Carri Hicks, of D-Oklahoma City, said the measure does not adhere to transparency or accountability.

“There was no public intervention,” she said. “We are in the midst of a pandemic. Our principals, teachers and students are thrilled to survive this year. However, the author believes that this will not have a destabilizing effect, without any evidence, no data to back up these claims. When the going gets tough at the last minute, we have to ask ourselves if it is in the best interest of the public.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation first coined the nickname “ghost student” while investigating potential wrongdoing at Epic charter schools. OBSI used the term for the purpose of quantifying students enrolled but not being taught.

The Oklahoma Public Affairs Council estimates that there are about 55,000 ghost students, and about 90% of the districts had at least one enrolled. The group said that means about $ 200 million in taxpayer funds went to districts for students who were no longer there.

Advocates for the school, however, say Oklahoma does not have “ghost students.” They say the existing funding formula has proven to be fair to both declining enrollment districts and growing schools, and that eliminating the following year before would make it difficult for schools to review contracts. ongoing and mandatory costs based on a one-year fluctuation in student enrollment.

State Senator Blake Stephens, R-Tahlequah, said he was in an “awkward position” because he was going to disappoint people. Still, he said he came to Capitol Hill to represent his constituents, the students in his district and their families.

“What we are doing today concerns me a lot,” he said before voting against the measure. “I believe the state of Oklahoma is still in crisis for school teachers. I believe in it with all my heart. I don’t see how this is going to be useful.

He said superintendents without an extra year to help plan a budget could mistakenly decide to let teachers go. But due to the continuing shortage of teachers in the state, districts don’t have the luxury of picking up a phone and easily finding a certified teacher in the blink of an eye.

State Representative Mary Boren D-Norman, who also opposed the measure, said the vote marked a disappointing and demoralizing day for her. A large majority of parents in her district urged her to vote against.

“What we are seeing today is a financial way to consolidate rural schools,” Boren said.

Boren said that in politics there are two groups engaged in a standoff over public policy. At one end of the rope are the parents of the public schools of more than 600,000 students, the superintendent of state schools, the Association of State School Boards, parent-teacher associations and advocacy groups. who represent teachers and staff. On the other side are the “rich and well-connected people” who have enough money to set their priorities and their agendas. She noted that the State Chamber of Commerce, in particular, was among the groups supporting the bill.

“It tells us who has the most power in Oklahoma,” Boren said. “One day the power will pass to the advocates of public schools to advance their priorities, but it is not that day. And, the State Chamber and those with the same perspective of special interest will succeed as they have for decades. “

Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma State Chamber, said after the vote that his organization was delighted that they were mentioned during the debate on the bill.

“Open transfers and student funding, not systems, are sensible and empowering reforms that we hope are just the beginning of making Oklahoma a leading education state,” did he declare.

Senator Lonnie Paxton, R-Chickasha, who backed the measure, said the legislature cannot continue to do things the way it always has – raise taxes and invest more money in public schools. Reforms are also needed along the way.

He said it was a good bill.

“I think it’s time for us to make some changes in the state,” Paxton said. “It’s kind of compared to the tax increases we’ve made.”

State Senator Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, who voted for the measure, said he had received text messages from coaches and teachers who had been told by superintendents the bill would hurt to schools.

“The truth is, it’s going to take real-time managerial decision making, with a year of hindsight, and adjustments so they can make managerial decisions and truly reflect the reality that Oklahoma is today. “said Jett. “So right now they’re pushing us not to make any changes. It’s going to force them to make tough decisions, but that’s why we’re paying them wages. I have no doubts that they will rise to the challenge once we move forward in this area.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI newspapers and websites. Contact her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.