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Editorial: If you want to know school budgets, boards are approving them now

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TPS Education Service Center - OUTSIDE (copy)

Tulsa Public Schools board was among the first to approve a budget for next year. 

The Tulsa Public Schools board is among the first to approve a budget for the next school year, complying with state law deadline of June 30. Other districts will quickly follow. 

For those who want information about where education dollars go in Oklahoma, this is where to start. School budgets may be complex, but they are open records and publicly available.

The 153-page TPS budget is on the district's website. All boards amend budgets throughout the year as enrollment numbers and funding shift.  

This year's projections will be different due to a change in how enrollment is calculated, one of the poor aspects of last year's House Bill 2078.

Enrollment, also called average daily membership, is what determines state aid. The attendance rate is a different measure and applies to other types of funding at the local levels.

Not every student receives equal funding. Within the enrollment numbers are weighted amounts. Certain students, such as those in special education courses and those identified as gifted an talented, receive higher allocations because it takes more resources to provide them an appropriate public education.

Previously, districts prepared budgets based on the highest enrollment of the past three years, which gave a cushion if there were unexpected spikes or falls. Now districts can use either the enrollment at the close of the school year or guess at next year's enrollment.

It's a gamble. If using the speculation model, districts risk an unforeseen loss of students. Or districts could be surprised with a big gain of students they cannot afford until mid-term adjustment payments come out in December.

Often, these things happen due to community changes, such as the closures or expansions of businesses. Coming out of a pandemic, districts remain unsure how the enrollment numbers will shake out. 

TPS had an enrollment of 33,470 during the last school year, with a conservative projection of 32,784 students next year. 

School budgets also reflect other funding sources, such as federal dollars for Indian Education, Title I, child nutrition and students who are homeless. Often, budget books reflect bond amounts from local property taxes. 

Public schools did not get an increase in funding of any meaningful amoung this year from the state Legislature. Lawmakers provided a 0.5% increase, with that largely line-itemed for legislative pet projects, while Oklahoma is No. 46 in the nation in per-pupil expenditure. 

The TPS budget of $653 million includes an anticipated decrease of $13.3 million in state aid. To stave off the worst, the board approved pulling $17 million out of the fund balance and use COVID funds to stabilize staffing. Inflation added 5% more for utility costs and a 50% jump in fuel costs for next year.

Among the TPS board, member Jerry Griffin cast the lone no vote, making no comment. Earlier, he encouraged state lawmakers to prioritize updating student weighted amounts. 

We appreciate the work school officials do in managing these complicated budgets. But we go further with our request to lawmakers for the next session: Get serious about improving public schools with increased per-pupil funding. 

Tulsa World Opinion podcast with Ginnie Graham and Bob Doucette


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