Gov. Stitt butts heads with educators over ‘ghost students’ issue

Mike Seals - February 2, 2021 11:16 pm


OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Education was a big part of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address on Monday. One term he used, “ghost students”, is turning heads. He says they are hurting the way schools are funded.

Stitt said “ghost students” are those that are counted twice, sometime three times as they transfer school districts.

He says that hurts schools, but not all education professionals agree.

“They’re called ‘ghost students.’ We’re sending money to districts to educate kids who don’t go there, and that’s simply not fair,” said Stitt.

The governor is talking about the way the State counts their students and allocates funds for them. In the current system, school districts are allowed to pick the highest enrollment number from a three-year window. But Stitt says as some students change schools, some 55,000 students are counted twice leading to the misappropriation of some $200 million in state education funds..

“It was disappointing for the governor to bring up a term ‘ghost student,’” said Katherine Bishop of the Oklahoma Education Association.

Education professionals say a law change is not needed. They say the way the current system is set up allows for better fiscal planning and, as numbers fluctuate wildly in the pandemic, it’s designed to keep districts from abruptly cutting staff and services.

“The funding formula is well-designed. It has lots of mechanisms that work with it and it can’t be just saying we need to do this one thing,” said Bishop.

The State Secretary of Education, Ryan Walters, says they are not talking about not cutting funding to Oklahoma public schools. He says a law change is needed to make sure the money better follows the student, especially as some districts grow.

“We are not changing all the weights, we are not changing all this other stuff. We are simply changing so that it’s accurate in the allocation per student,” said Ryan Walters.

The “ghost student” issue is not the only one the governor is butting heads with educators on.

“It’s now been 325 days since Tulsa students in 4th through 12th grades have been allowed to be in their classrooms. 325 days!” said Stitt on Monday.

After those comments, in his State of the State, about Tulsa Public Schools continuing to be all virtual, the Tulsa Public Schools superintendent posted a statement on social media, saying in part, “Our governor is a bully … For months, he targeted our district and our decisions with inaccurate and uninformed statements. He never once reached out to us directly. I tried, without success, to reach out to him.”

But the Governor’s Office fired back.

“I know the governor’s heart. The governor wants every student in the state to have access to in-person learning if that’s what they choose,” said Walters.

To change the formula for counting student, it would take a law change, a bill is expected to be filed later this session.


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