Revenue shortfall hurts Okla. schools

Tuesday, March 4th 2008, 6:28 pm
By: News 9

By Amy Lester, NEWS 9

Oklahoma State Department of Education plans to slash funding to schools because of a major revenue shortfall.

The Department of Education just sent out a letter telling all districts, they'll receive less state money, starting this month. That's unless the legislature hands over nearly $42 million.

Western Heights Superintendent Joe Kitchens said it's a bad time for budget cuts this late into the school year.

"It's hard especially coming this late in the year budgets have been made, people have been hired," Kitchens said.

The anticipated cut in state funding will leave the Western Heights School District with $160,000 less than he expected this year.

"That's four teachers we can't hire; you know that's a couple of buses we couldn't buy," Kitchens said.

Lealon Taylor with the State Department of Education said the department is reducing its aid checks to all districts by two percent. That's to make up for a nearly $42 million shortfall in corporate income tax and lottery revenue. 

"We tell them each month how much money they're supposed to receive and this will be the first time this year we won't be able to have enough cash on hand to give them the amount of money that they are expecting," Taylor said.

The State Department of Education is asking the legislature to make up the difference with about $42 million in supplemental funding. Without that money, cuts will start immediately.

"We've done what we can do and we're hoping the state legislature will be able to fund that money and provide our schools the projected funding level that was promised to them," Taylor said.

Kitchens said lawmakers should do whatever's necessary; even tap into the rainy day fund to make up for the shortfall as soon as possible.

"We really really need to see the legislature take some action to fill that funding gap," Kitchens said.

Lawmakers say they are working on the issue. No word yet on, if, or when the money will go to the Department of Education.

The State Department of Education is talking to lawmakers, encouraging them to approve the supplemental funding.