Education funding in Oklahoma has dropped steadily since 2008, as has funding around the nation. But Oklahoma schools have suffered the steepest cuts in the nation in that time. Even before drops in oil prices, schools were making do with less, and advocating for more funding, while policy makers were pushing for more efficiencies and pointing to administrative costs as the source of school funding woes.
Representative Michael Rogers (R-98), the current Chair of the House Education Committee, has heated up the rhetoric recently, with an email to his Caucus members, disputing the reports of declining revenue. He used the term ‘fake news” to make his point. Citing a report from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Rogers asserted that school funding has actually increased in Oklahoma. His numbers, though, include all funding sources for Oklahoma schools, including federal dollars and local support. Rogers later responded to the original article about the leaked email, attempting to clarify his concerns. He said his remarks were directed to Oklahoma State School Board Association’s Director, Shawn Hime, and his statements about school funding.
Rogers’s concerns are focused on the rising costs of the Flexible Benefits Allowance, the teacher health insurance costs the legislature is required to pay. These costs continue to increase every year. He has suggested putting the FBA in the free market so the legislature would see cost savings, with more money going into the classrooms.
OSSBA and the OKSDE have disputed Rogers’s statements, pointing out that per-pupil funding, the sole responsibility of the Oklahoma Legislature, has dropped $180 per pupil in recent years.
Rogers has often expressed deep concerns about finding funding numbers that all parties can agree upon, and using them to start a substantive conversation about school funding in the state. This latest story may be a way to keep funding, and FBA, in the foreground as the legislature goes into Special Session September 25 to address the general funding issues of the state.