Education & a shade of difference: big cuts, little cuts, and defining cuts
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Published: 10-Aug-2010

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 10-Aug-2010

Since late in this year’s legislative session, the governor and Republican leaders of the Oklahoma state Legislature have consistently said common education was held to a 2.9% budget reduction from Fiscal Year 2010 (which ended June 30) to Fiscal Year 2011 (which began July 1).

In Office of State Finance data, the “Final FY-10” spending figure for common schools was $2,446,504,826, which includes supplemental appropriations. The “Final FY-11” figure was $2,375,556,186. The reduced actual disbursement was $70,948,640, or 2.9%. 

However, the state superintendent of public instruction and her Department of Education contend -- in press releases, public statements and in communications to CapitolBeatOK since the end of the session -- that the cut year to year was actually 7.6%.

The education department’s contention is that the higher 7.6% amount, in dollar terms $196,451,016, is the actual “cut” and is based on what was appropriated in May 2010. Because that amount is what original budget projections were based on, agency officials say, it is a more accurate figure. 

A source knowledgeable about Oklahoma state government finance told CapitolBeatOK, “The difference is that they are comparing the original FY 2010 appropriation, which they never received due to the revenue shortfall and resulting cuts during the fiscal year.”

In brief, this source explained, another and less polarizing way of looking at the disagreement is this: “The key difference between what the governor and Legislature are saying and what is being said at the State Department of Education is the starting point of comparison.”

This analyst continued, “The state Education Department is using a number that never materialized, and a number that, in fact, was reduced beginning the second month of the fiscal year. The governor and Legislature are using the actual amount of money that was given to the common schools.”

To sum up, the stated cut of 2.9% is based on taxpayer money the agency actually received year to year, not the number the Education Department was first appropriated but never received. The measuring point is the difference, i.e. projected appropriation versus actual allocation.

After May 2009 passage of the original FY 2010 budgets, including for education, the national recession deepened and took hold in Oklahoma. By late July, state officials were anticipating revenue well below prior projections. As the revenue crunch set in, cross-the-board cuts of 5 percent and then 10 percent in monthly allocations were implemented on all state agencies.

When the Legislature came back into session in February, they soon adjusted the FY 2010 budget, then went to work on the FY 2011 budget. 

For sake of comparison, most other state agencies outside of education have absorbed cuts of 21.5 percent over the past two years. But the particulars in each agency vary, and may depend on how an observer defines “cuts.”

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