MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 31, 2013

School funds uncertain

Changes could cut fed kindergarten money

— Muskogee Public Schools is playing a shell game with the budget as they await news about passage of several laws, a finance official said.

“I have five different scenarios to consider based on several bills and budget cuts,” said MPS Chief Financial Officer John Little.

Congress recently announced a 5 percent cut to federal education grants, which will leave the district with $500,000 less in grant money beginning the next fiscal year.

And in 2014, the Health Care For America plan could require health insurance to be provided to some substitute teachers.

Most pressing is the state mandate making kindergarten full-day at all districts, which goes into effect July 1, Little said.

MPS has been using federal funds, Title I money, to pay for full-day kindergarten for 20 years, Little said. It is one of maybe two or three districts in the state using federal funds to pay kindergarten teacher salaries, he said.

If the state mandates full-day kindergarten, the $700,000 used from Title I can no longer be used. Any state-mandated program in education cannot be funded through federal funds, he said.

A bill that passed the House but is still waiting to get through committee in the Senate will put a stop to the mandate.

HB1395 amends the mandate to say full-day kindergarten is optional — but the Senate only has one week to get it through committee or it will have to wait until the next legislative session.

If the HB1395 isn’t passed, full-day becomes mandated and Little has to find $700,000 in the general fund to continue paying for kindergarten teachers.

The law provides state aid for 1/2 day or full-day kindergarten students, but it won’t make any difference for MPS.

“State aid given for kindergartners is already being used toward other salaries,” Little said. “We’ve been using the Title I funds the whole time. Back in the early ’90s it was one of those new ideas, and schools like us decided if we could get kids in class more, we could give them a better education.”

Little said the looming $500,000 federal budget cuts aren’t as pressing, at least not until 2015.

“We’ve been very lucky with the number of teachers retiring, and we knew this was coming. We’ve saved some dimes,” Little said. “But in 2015, we’ll have reached the point we’ve done everything we can think of and we have to look at other options.”

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