Thursday, February 23, 2012

Committee Votes to ‘Give Teeth’ to School District Transparency

Legislation approved by the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education would “give teeth” to the School District Transparency Act, according to the bill’s author.
On June 6th, 2010 Senate Bill 1633, otherwise known as the "School District Transparency Act" was signed into law. This law, effective November 1, 2010, requires that the Oklahoma State Department of Education make available certain information on its website as pertaining to Oklahoma Public School Districts’ expenditures, cost descriptions, amounts of funds spent, types of transactions, copies of credit card statements, and current per-pupil expenditure figures. The database does not include voluntary payroll deductions for employees to receiving parties.
Under House Bill 2644, by state Rep. David Brumbaugh, school districts and the Oklahoma Board of Education would lose funding if they fail to comply with the School District Transparency Act.
The legislation authorizes the Office of State Finance to withhold administrative and support funds from the Oklahoma Board of Education if it does not include data on its website required by the School District Transparency Act. The withholding would be 1 percent of total appropriations for administrative and support functions and would increase by 1 percent for each subsequent month of noncompliance. If noncompliance continued after five months, 8 percent would be withheld.
“This legislation creates a penalty for failure to comply with state law,” said Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow). “The Oklahoma Board of Education has continually failed to put the required data on their website. My legislation gives teeth to the School District Transparency Act and would strongly press them to do so. Taxpayers have a right to know where their tax dollars are being spent and at the minimum, we in the Legislature need to have financial data to make decisions.”
The legislation also increases the penalty for school districts not adhering to the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System. After five months of failing to adhere, the school district would have its state aid payment decreased by 8 percent for each month of noncompliance.
“The legislation gives school districts a lot of leeway so they are not punished for missing a deadline, but instead penalizes those who continually fail to comply with state law,” Brumbaugh said. “We also set a fairly low percentage, to ensure that the penalty was not too severe. I think school districts will choose to comply.”
House Bill 2644 now proceeds to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee for consideration.

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