One-off education funds creating demand for long-term spending?

As the state spends federal funds to rescue COVID, officials from the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) have used millions of those one-time dollars to create potentially long-term new jobs. within the state education system.

At the December State Board of Education meeting, OSDE officials acknowledged that Oklahoma state governments and local governments may need to find millions in new funding to cover these costs. wages within three years when the federal bailout money is gone.

“Our hope and belief is that the data will speak for itself and that there may be a desire to fund this in the future,” said Carolyn Thompson, head of government affairs for the Department of Education. Oklahoma. “Otherwise, we think districts will see the benefit of having these people in their schools during that three-year period and prioritize funding the second half of the salary.”

Thompson made the comments regarding a “school counselor corps” program initiated by the state superintendent of public education, Joy Hofmeister. So far, Hofmeister has allocated $ 36.6 million in federal COVID rescue funds to the program, which has been used to hire 302 employees in 174 districts of Oklahoma. Federal funds cover the cost of half a councilor’s salary while the district covers the other half.

Hofmeister stressed that federal funds were not being used to pay the salaries of staff of advisers already in place.

“This is in addition to what has happened previously,” said Hofmeister.

The state superintendent called the program “fairly standard for schools.”

But some members of the State Board of Education have indicated they are uncomfortable creating demand for services that may not be financially sustainable in the long term.

“These are obviously one-time funds,” said Jennifer Monies, a member of the State Board of Education. “These are people who are now employed by the districts.”

As part of the various federal rescue measures adopted since the start of the COVID pandemic, some of the funding has gone to the Oklahoma education system. As the head of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, State Superintendent of Public Education Joy Hofmeister controls how some of this education funding is spent and does not have to submit these plans to the National Board of Education. However, a presentation on OSDE’s use of federal COVID rescue funds was provided at the December board meeting.

During the presentation, officials acknowledged that new employees have also been added to the OSDE using one-time federal funds. The OSDE retains $ 7.4 million in federal rescue dollars for administrative costs associated with various programs funded by federal COVID rescue dollars. Thompson said the money “will fund more than 35 employees to manage all of these initiatives.”

“This is a significant investment for our agency,” said Thompson.

She added that the 35 agency employees hired with federal funding are informed during the hiring process that “the position will expire in three years.”

An additional $ 5.2 million has been spent on creating a “math tutoring corps” that pays up to 500 tutors to work with 1,500 students.

The first wave of federal COVID rescue funding approved in 2020 was directed to schools based on the number of low-income students each district serves. This meant that districts in Oklahoma with a greater share of high-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 given in direct flow to districts that had received much less than other very poor districts,” said Thompson.

Hofmeister has also allocated millions of dollars to increase the number of school administrators, earmarking $ 4.2 million for a Teach for America Innovative Fellows program.

“I know a lot of people are talking about the teacher shortage, but there is also a significant shortage of principals,” Thompson said. “So this program will recruit and train the directors of former TFA students. “

The program will finance the training of 75 people over three years.

Almost an additional $ 10 million will be spent on currently unidentified projects for which contracts are pending, Thompson said. Once these contracts are concluded, the details will be made available to the public.

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