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Okla. Power Struggle Imperils 'Rainy Day' School Aid

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Some school districts in Oklahoma may close the fiscal year next week with significant shortfalls because of a power struggle between Republican Gov. Frank Keating and the Democrat-controlled legislature.

At issue is money that districts with rapidly expanding enrollments depend on each year to make up for expenses not covered by state aid payments, which are based on past student attendance.

Districts were expecting about $6 million in the current fiscal year.

To get the extra money for districts, the Democratic legislative leadership wanted to tap the state's so-called rainy-day fund. But Governor Keating and Republican legislators said no dice.

The fund contains about $45 million, but only about half of that can be appropriated in any given year, state budget analysts said.

The legislature tapped the fund last year for about $45 million--including $5.5 million for the "midterm adjustment" payments to school districts.

Mr. Keating believes the money would be better used to pay for damage resulting from the April 19 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, a spokesman in the Governor's office said.

Instead, Mr. Keating would make about $12 million in adjustment payments to growing districts--full instead of partial funding--out of legislative appropriations that he recently vetoed.

Remaining Impasse

The vetoed funds, some education-related, were supplemental amounts sought by the legislature.

The Governor deleted about $8 million for K-12 schools, which included money for programs from staff development to alternative schools. That sliced a sizable chunk from the already-small increase in funding--about $27 million--that precollegiate education was to see in the coming fiscal year, one education lobbyist said. The total K-12 education budget is about $1.5 billion.

In addition, the Governor vetoed $3 million in state money for Head Start and $2 million for vocational-technical education.

Because of the impasse between the Governor and the legislature, a special session to deal with the issues is not likely anytime soon.

The loss of the midterm-adjustment money has hit some growing school districts hard.

The 147-student Tannehill district in McAlester, 90 miles south of Tulsa, may head into the red for the first time and risk state-ordered consolidation with another district, Superintendent Jennifer Marco said.

If the legislature funded the growth payments to the same extent it did last year, the K-8 district would have received about $32,000 to $35,000 extra--or roughly 10 percent of its $350,000 budget this year. Tannehill's enrollment increased nearly 20 percent, from 123 to 147 students in the school year just completed.

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