Critic shrugs off massive Oklahoma school-funding bill
May 17, 2023
Oklahoma lawmakers voted to open the money spigot for public schools during Wednesday’s activity, providing a historic level of education funding.
But a leader of the House Democratic caucus dismissed that effort as insufficient.
House Bill 2901 appropriates $500 million to public schools through the state funding formula and also provides an additional $125 million to be distributed to schools through the Redbud School Grants Program, which augments funding at smaller schools with limited local property tax revenue.
The $500 million in formula funding will cover the cost of new teacher pay raises of $3,000 to $6,000 apiece with the size of the increase rising with a teacher’s years of classroom experience.
State Rep. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton, said the bill provides “the largest infusion of resources and capital into public education in the history of Oklahoma.”
Once this year’s pay raise becomes law, he noted the average Oklahoma teacher will have seen his or her salary increase by more than $11,000 per year since pay raises began in 2018.
Lawmakers have noted that the plan will result in a five-year state funding increase that exceeds the amount provided in the prior quarter-century. From 1993 to 2018, state school funding rose by $1.35 billion. With adoption of this year’s plan, state school funding will have increased by $1.37 billion from 2019 to 2024.
“We have had a 59-percent increase in public funding over six years,” said state Rep. Rhonda Baker, a Yukon Republican who carried HB 2901 on the House floor.
But state Rep. Regina Goodwin, a Tulsa lawmaker who is an assistant minority floor leader for the House Democratic caucus, dismissed those statistics, saying education funding was cut “more deeply in this state than any other state in America” prior to 2018. She described this year’s large spending bill as only “incrementally making progress.”
Goodwin appeared to be referencing a 2017 report from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which claimed Oklahoma had experienced the largest percentage decline in per-pupil funding run through the state’s school-funding formula, adjusted for inflation, from 2008 to 2018.
But the same report showed that when examining state and local funding for schools, a broader measure that better accounts for true school funding, Oklahoma had not experienced the largest reduction in the nation. Seven other states had larger percentage declines.
And the report also showed that state school-formula funding had declined in 29 states at that time and only five states had increased spending by more than 10 percent over that decade due to the severe 2008 recession.
State Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, noted that measurement also did not account for the state differences in cost of living, noting that dollars stretch much further in Oklahoma than in many states. He said the comparison was flawed because it effectively assumed “that it costs the same to live in Sand Springs as it does in San Francisco.”
Goodwin also complained that this year’s education budget agreement separately provides for $150 million in refundable tax credits that will allow more Oklahoma families to choose private school or homeschool, saying that is “giving public dollars to private school students.”
Baker said Goodwin’s claim is incorrect.
“It’s a tax credit, so it is not taking anything away from public ed to give those families a choice,” Baker said.
She noted House Democrats have supported other tax credits without claiming those credits divert money from schools.
Despite criticizing this year’s education funding, all Democratic lawmakers present voted with Republicans in favor of the plan.
HB 2901 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 96-0 vote.