Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has announced that several school districts could be forced to close due to budget cuts to public schools coming mid-year as a result of state revenue failure.
The approved cuts total $46.7 million, or 3% of the education budget. As a result, schools will receive $23 less in per student funding for the rest of the fiscal year.
Referring to the situation as "somber," Hofmeister told the board that her department had made the effort to give schools more flexibility through targeted cuts rather than have the result be 3% across all programs.
Revenue failure in the general revenue fund was declared by the state on December 23. At that time, all state agencies were told to ready a revised budget for the 2016 fiscal year which would include a 3% cut across the board.
However, Director of Government Affairs Carolyn Thompson said they would be looking to receive approval of a slightly different proposal that would see the general revenue fund budget cut by 2.53% while the public schools activities fund would be cut by 6.6%.
"What we have done is where there was flexibility, we took extra money beyond the three percent cut and put that towards the formula," State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said.
Larger cuts were given to school lunch programs and professional development programs for teachers. While school lunch programs lost $1.5 million, AP and AVID teacher training and staff development funds took hits of $1.7 million and $2.1 million respectively. Funds that had previously been set aside for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math ready schools will be completely lost. The extra cuts will offer an additional $4.7 million for the board's funding formula.
Thompson said that by cutting specific programs within the public schools' activity funds, districts would have the flexibility to use the funds in a way that better serves the district rather than the exact line items within the fund.
Hofmeister added that schools will possibly be able to use general revenue funds to pay for a portion of the public activities items that were subject to the cuts.
"So now we let them decide what to do with that money as they are going to need. Every dollar is critical and precious at this point," said Hofmeister.
It is still unclear how individual schools and students will be impacted by the cuts. School officials say it depends on how much money schools have in rainy day funds and how much they receive from the state. However, some may not be able to afford the cuts, which would force them to shut down, reports Grant Hermes for News9.
At the same time, the state is dealing with a massive teacher shortage, which Hofmeister stressed needs to remain the priority for some schools.
"It must remain the top priority for my administration, for this agency. We will continue to work towards creative solution for that. We want to be a part of those conversations."
According to Hofmeister, more cuts could be coming for the state this spring. The board is currently reworking mid-year projections, which are expected to reach individual districts in the next 7-10 days.