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Education

March 11, 2013

Unfunded mandates impact area schools

Superintendents hope legislators use caution

DUNCAN — For as long as Comanche Superintendent Terry Davidson can remember, unfunded mandates have been a reality for school districts throughout Oklahoma.

With House Bill 1711, the Oklahoma House of Representatives could be working toward relieving the stress on school districts caused by unfunded mandates handed down from the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the state legislature.

“It seems like a given that if the legislature is going to mandate the schools do something, that they would help pay for it,” Davidson said.

So far, little action has taken place on HB 1711. Several amendments have been written for the bill, and it was approved by the Appropriations and Budget Committee with a vote of 20 to 1.

The bill, which was introduced as the School District Unfunded Mandate Relief Program, would allow boards of education to deregulate from unfunded or underfunded mandates. According to the Oklahoma Legislature website, underfunded mandates are those where 75 percent or less of the money needed for the mandate is provided.

“We’ve had lots of unfunded mandates,” Marlow Superintendent George Coffman said. “We have to figure out how it’s going to get paid for.”

Coffman said there are several variables when it comes to unfunded mandates. He said when unfunded mandates are passed down to school districts, especially smaller, more rural districts, it causes a financial burden that can be difficult for those districts to overcome.

He said other things can attribute to a districts difficulty in overcoming unfunded or underfunded mandates.

“Take this year for instance,” Coffman said. “Gross production is down.”

Duncan Superintendent Sherry Labyer said unfunded mandates can greatly impact school districts. Labyer said she is for gaining any help possible for dealing with these mandates.

She said many of the mandates are necessary, even if they are unfunded. She said caution needs to be taken when a school district is trying to determine what mandates it wants to deregulate from.

“Let’s be careful what we’re taking away,” Labyer said. “If it’s working, let’s keep it. Let’s be careful and methodical.”

Davidson said there are programs that have been around for a long time but have never been funded. Among these is ACE Remediation.

“It’s something we want to do,” Davidson said. “It has never been funded.”

Oklahoma school districts have been receiving the same money for transportation as they were receiving in 1986. He said things like these underfunded programs negatively impact school districts’ general budgets.

“We’re already stretched to survive,” Davidson said. “It seems like a no brainer to me.”

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