State Rep. Michael Rogers, chairman of the House Common Education Committee, described recent news stories about a drop in funding for common education as “fake news.”
Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, email sent to members of the his Republican caucus labeled “fake news.”
Rogers, a former school administrator, said the email was in direct reference to false educational funding data released last spring by Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) Executive Director Shawn Hime and the Cooperative Council of State School Administration (CCOSA) that claimed Oklahoma cut education funding by $1 billion dollars. The information is still being disseminated, prompting Rogers to again remind his caucus members not to fall for this “fake news.”
“When I first saw these numbers last spring, I reached out to Mr. Hime, asking him to show me numbers supporting his claim,” Rogers said. “He sent a breakdown showing how he used cumulative math to come up with the figure. Using the same method, I showed how the Legislature would be up nearly $2 billion dollars in education funding. When I asked if OSSBA and CCOSA would agree to use cumulative math for the future, the organizations agreed they’re method was inaccurate.”
Rogers said his reference to “fake news” was solely in reference to the previous misleading information by Hime.
“I am always willing to meet with educators on numbers and have traveled the state and met with dozens of superintendents about funding, teacher pay, and class sizes. I have always been accessible and willing to have a conversation on where we are as a state with education funding and how we can improve,” Rogers said.
Rogers and the Republican House passed a $6,000 teacher pay raise this year, which the state Senate refused to hear. Rogers said he continues to look at educational numbers to see not only where the state is in terms of education funding, but how the state arrived in its current condition. “As a legislator I kept hearing about academic year 2008-09 as a comparison year,” Rogers said.” When I looked at that year, I quickly saw appropriations were at an all-time high of $2.87 billion, I also saw that the recession hit the following year, and appropriations dropped $316 million to $2.5 billion for 2009-10. Couple that with rising costs of teacher insurance, up $117,670,361 from 2008-09 to 2015-16 and one can see the difficult climb the state is having in matching that peak funding year.”
Rogers has been the lone voice in raising the concern on rising health care costs and the effect that has on the state aid formula that is factored into per-pupil spending. Rogers pointed out that in 2008-09, the Flexible Benefit Allowance (FBA) for teachers, administrators and school staff was only 10 percent of the appropriated dollar. By 2015-16, FBA had grown to 15 percent and for FY18 over 18 percent. FBA is estimated to be around $500 million for FY19 and could be as much as 20 percent of the appropriated dollars.
“The Legislature could appropriate $30 million to $40 million per year more and schools would not see an increase in formula dollars, because the FBA increase every year would eat it up,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he has met with OSSBA and other educational groups about this alarming trend and suggested ways to solve this problem. One solution would be to put FBA on the free market to help drive down the costs, he said, but the associations don’t want to make a change.
“They know it is a massive problem, and they know it is eating at the formula, but they would rather just blame the Legislature than sit down and make decisions to benefit students, schools, communities, and the state,” Rogers said. “I am always looking for an open dialogue on how we can improve education by pushing funding to the local districts and finding ways to get more money into teachers’ pockets and into the classroom. I will continue to fight for students and parents and won’t be bullied or silenced for wanting to have an open honest conversation on education funding and how we can improve it.”