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Originally posted May 25, 2012
A third of Oklahoma schools' textbook money ($11.5 million) to be used for Education Department
BY KIM ARCHER Tulsa World Staff Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
OKLAHOMA CITY - State Superintendent Janet Barresi will apparently use $11.5 million of the $33 million that school districts were expecting for textbooks to cover a shortage in the Education Department's budget.
Barresi said she did not ask for discretion over the textbook funds as part of her budget request to state lawmakers. For 2010-11 and 2011-12, school districts were granted the flexibility to spend their textbook funds from the state on other instructional expenditures, if need be. The Legislature recently extended that flexibility by another two years.
"I literally (just) found out about it. I had no idea those were coming in until they arrived," Barresi said of gaining access to the textbook funds. "And we were looking at the budget we were presented and how we were going to spend $7 million for $18 million in requirements."
Barresi spoke with the Tulsa World following Thursday's meeting of the State Board of Education, where earlier she announced she expected an $11.5 million shortfall in the activities fund next year due to an expected flat state budget.
Part of the overall education budget, the school activities budget provides money for a variety of instructional programs across the state.
Barresi said she asked lawmakers how the decision was made to give her discretion over the textbook funds, "and nobody knew."
"I said, 'If we've got it, then let's figure out the bare minimum we need and get the rest out to the districts,' " Barresi said.
The superintendent proposed getting $21.5 million out to districts immediately. Also, if the increase in the flexible benefits allowance was below 1.5 percent, the remainder would also go to districts, she said.
Barresi said she later learned an amendment was working its way through the closing days of the legislative session that would move $30 million from the activities fund to districts.
"It looks like the appropriations will be at the same levels as last year," she said at the meeting of the State Board of Education. "We were looking forward to a slight increase. We didn't get that."
She said the standstill budget will result in less money for the activities fund.
"We're going to have to make some very tough decisions," Barresi said.
The shortfall could mean less funding for remediation in Achieving Classroom Excellence, which refers to the tests students are now required to pass to graduate from high school.
It could also affect scholarship money for those in Advanced Placement classes and other vital programs, she said.
"I appeal to the state Legislature to help us," Barresi said, adding that the budget is fluid at the moment. "We're fighting very hard to bring this about."
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard said he and other area superintendents were shocked when they learned Thursday that textbook funding would no longer flow directly to school districts.
"This Legislature and governor continue to ignore the needs of public schools. Now the state superintendent has joined them," Ballard said. "In the past, Tulsa Public Schools has received $2 million in textbook funding. It has always come directly to the school. This year the Legislature decided to send the money to the state superintendent, who has evidently chosen to willingly cut textbook funding to schools, resulting in a loss of nearly one-third of the textbook funding to Tulsa Public Schools alone. We no longer have a flat budget. They just cut schools by $11.5 million."