Ray Carter | December 17, 2021
One-time education funds creating long-term spending demand?
As the state spends federal COVID-bailout funding, officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) have used millions of those one-time dollars to create new, potentially long-term jobs within the state’s education system.
During December’s meeting of the State Board of Education, OSDE officials conceded that Oklahoma state and local governments may have to find millions in new funding to cover those salaries within three years when the federal bailout money goes away.
“Our hope and our belief is that the data will speak for itself, and that there might be a desire to fund this into the future,” said Carolyn Thompson, chief of government affairs for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. “If not, we think that the districts will, in this three-year time period, see the value of having these people in their schools and prioritize funding the second half of the salary.”
Thompson made those comments regarding a “school counselor corps” program launched by State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. So far, Hofmeister has directed $36.6 million in federal COVID bailout funds to the program, which has been used to hire 302 staff in 174 Oklahoma districts. The federal funds cover the cost of half a counselor’s salary while the district covers the other half.
Hofmeister stressed that the federal funds were not used to pay the salaries of counselor staff already in place.
“These are in addition to what happened previous,” Hofmeister said.
The state superintendent described the program as “pretty standard for schools.”
But some members of the State Board of Education indicated unease with creating demand for services that may not be financially sustainable in the long run.
“These are obviously one-time funds,” said State Board of Education member Jennifer Monies. “These are people that are now employed by districts.”
Under the various federal bailout measures passed since the COVID pandemic began, a share of funding went to the Oklahoma education system. As head of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister has control over how a share of that education funding is spent and does not have to submit those plans to the State Board of Education. However, a presentation on OSDE’s use of federal COVID bailout funds was provided during the board’s December meeting.
During the presentation, officials acknowledged that new employees have also been added at OSDE using one-time federal funds. OSDE retains $7.4 million in federal bailout funding for administrative costs associated with various programs funded with federal COVID bailout dollars. Thompson said that money “will fund more than 35 staff to manage all of these initiatives.”
“It’s a significant investment for our agency,” Thompson said.
She added that the 35 agency staff hired with the federal funding are informed during the hiring process that “the position will expire in three years.”
Another $5.2 million has been directed to the creation of a “math tutoring corps” that is paying up to 500 tutors to work with 1,500 students.
The initial wave of federal COVID-bailout funding approved in 2020 was directed to schools based on the number of low-income students each district served. That meant Oklahoma districts with a larger share of upper-income students received less money. As a result, when additional federal funding was provided, Hofmeister directed $49 million to 88 of Oklahoma’s wealthiest school districts.
“This $49 million was granted out in direct flowthrough to districts that had received significantly less than other districts that were high-poverty,” Thompson said.
Hofmeister has also directed millions to increasing the number of school administrators, earmarking $4.2 million for a Teach for America Innovative Fellows program.
“I know a lot of people talk about the teacher shortage, but there’s also a significant principal shortage,” Thompson said. “So this program will recruit and train principals from the TFA alumni.”
The program will fund the training of 75 individuals over three years.
Nearly $10 million more will be spent on currently unidentified projects for which contracts are pending, Thompson said. Once those contracts are completed, details will be provided to the public.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.