Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive November 2015 Show 1547 Fair Funding for Schools

Fair Funding for Schools

School districts containing tax-exempt federal land get impact aid from the U.S. government, but the amount isn’t keeping pace with costs.
Fair Funding for Schools

Fair Funding for Schools

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Economic Research and Policy Institute

Oklahoma Department of Education

Show Details

Show 1547: Fair Funding for Schools
Air Date: November 22, 2015



Rob McClendon: Well, the economic impact of Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized tribes equals $10.8 billion, that according to the Steven Agee Economic and Research Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University. But that does come at a cost to school districts that sit on untaxed Indian land. Since 1950, Congress has provided financial assistance to these local school districts, but in recent years that money, called federal impact aid, has been reduced. Joining me now is our Courtney Maye.

Courtney Maye: School districts serving children living on tribal land have long depended on help from the federal government to make up for revenue lost from local property taxes. We traveled to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to see the challenges one such district faces.

Courtney Maye: In the eastern part of the state near the Arkansas River, Sallisaw, Oklahoma, is rich in Native American culture. Yet the school district here faces a challenge because tribal land is exempt from property taxes.

Scott Farmer: Our local property values, our local contribution to support education, is lower than most schools. Therefore, we’re more dependent on state aid.

Courtney: Scott Farmer is the superintendent at Sallisaw Public Schools, and with a significant amount of the Sallisaw School District being in tribal land, they’ve had to rely on community support through bonds to pay for school maintenance and upgrades.

Farmer: For every student that’s in a school district, there’s $45,000 of taxable tax base from local revenue to support that kid. Sallisaw’s a little different, our per capita evaluation’s around $23,000, so we’re well under the state average.

Courtney: And Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin says rural school districts especially are being affected by the lack of funding going into education, causing school administration in some districts to fill multiple roles.

Markwayne Mullin: They’ve lost funding, and so they’re cutting back by, all of the administrators now are doing the substitute teaching.

Courtney: And Mullin says financial struggles lead to educational struggles.

Mullin: That quality goes down, and it can create more of a distraction than an opportunity in an environment that’s conducive to the kids to absorbing that lesson that they’re gonna be getting taught that day.

Courtney: When impact aid is granted to a school district, the funding is used for what that particular school needs at that time.

Farmer: We get to make the decision at a local level on how are we gonna allocate those dollars. Is this the year that we need it for textbooks or the year we are going to buy a school bus or resurface parking lots? So there is an element of flexibility with impact aid dollars that we are grateful for.

Courtney: And for Sallisaw, educational advancement would not be possible without the financial help from impact aid.

Farmer: We are definitely gonna become more and more dependent on getting reimbursed from federal activity.

Rob: So, Courtney, are other schools relying on this impact aid here in Oklahoma?

Courtney: Yes they are. Anywhere where there’s large amounts of federal property.
So the Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, the Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester, Fort Sill and Lawton, all of these school districts are affected by this tax exempt land.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much, Courtney.

Courtney: You’re welcome, Rob.