Michael Broyles called a federal bookkeeping change that could cut thousands of federal dollars from rural schools reckless.
The Canadian Public Schools superintendent said his school faces a $14,757 cut in Rural Low Income Schools Program funding after the U.S. Education Department notified state education leaders it would change how districts report the number of students who live in poverty.
More than 800 schools across the country would be at risk of losing thousands in federal dollars and the change would cut the number of eligible Oklahoma schools nearly in half.
“It’s reckless,” Broyles said.
The Education Department said it will change how schools report students living in poverty after it discovered some received funding despite not meeting eligibility requirements under federal education law since 2002.
Districts were allowed for nearly two decades to use the percentage of students who qualify for federally-subsidized free-and-reduced price meals.
The department will now require districts to use the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates to determine if 20% of school-aged children live in poverty.
Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told The New York Times the department “has drafted the legislative fix needed to use a free and reduced lunch funding formula.”
The change impacts how much school districts receive in federal funding each year.
Broyles said Canadian Public Schools would face a $14,000 cut in federal funding — but would not be forced to immediately reduce services as the school would make up for those losses from its $1.2 million in the general fund.
McAlester Public Schools Superintendent Randy Hughes said a state-level federal programs representative told him poverty numbers for the school will remain the same.
The RLIS Estimated Allocation for this year is $60,188, which Hughes said is on par with previous years.
Hartshorne Public Schools Superintendent Jason Lindley said the bookkeeping change could bring cuts between $12,000 to $30,000 at his school.
Lindley said the change doesn’t create a dire situation for Hartshorne, which operates on roughly an $8 million budget, but it does complicate budgeting for next year.
“We’re trying to make plans to hire teachers back for next year and we don’t have our numbers from the state of Oklahoma — that’s hard enough,” Lindley said. “But then when the federal government comes out with a new decision to fund us on a different measure…how can you possibly budget?”
Local school officials also voiced concern over the accuracy of the census data in determining the percentage of students living in poverty.
State officials and representatives have also voiced concerns over the change.
Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in a letter sent Monday to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos states the change could cost the state’s rural schools more than $1 million. Hofmeister also called for Oklahoma’s senators and congressmen to step in and save rural schools.
“The loss of approximately $1,040,095 in RLIS funds will adversely affect many rural (school districts) and likely force the reduction of services to their students,” Hofmeister said in a press release. “We must do everything in our power to ensure this change in policy is reversed as abruptly as it was enacted, which is why I am asking for the members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation to intervene on behalf of our rural schools.”
Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, also wrote a letter to DeVos saying her state would lose $1.2 million and 100 of the 149 qualifying schools last year in Maine would lose funding this year.
Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana, said in a letter that 220 Montana districts would face $400,000 in cuts.
Broyles also wrote a letter calling for Senator James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, to draft or sign legislation to reverse the change in calculating the funds.
“I just want a seat at the table to say ‘changing this rule is reckless,’” Broyles said.
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