Oklahoma School Districts Experience Unusual Delay in Receiving Federal Funding

Millions of dollars in federal funds are still owed to school districts in Oklahoma due to significant delays in processing their claims by the state Department of Education.

Superintendent Rick Cobb of Midwest City-Del City Public Schools stated that in previous years, their federal spending plans would be approved by the end of September, and they would quickly receive the federal reimbursements. However, this year, their federal application was not approved until December 12, causing a delay in receiving millions of dollars.

A survey conducted by the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) found that 72% of the surveyed districts had not received their federal funds by mid-November. This delay has caused districts to either spend money without reimbursement or put their plans on hold.

The state Department of Education’s federal programs office acknowledged the delays in a memo to districts on December 8, stating that a little over half of all applications have been approved. The approval process for applications has changed this year to ensure greater accuracy and compliance with the law.

According to the survey by CCOSA, the application process has been particularly frustrating and slow this year, with districts receiving conflicting information from state officials.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters speaks during an Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting Aug. 24 in Oklahoma City. (Brent Fuchs/For Oklahoma Voice)

The state Department of Education dismissed the survey as criticism from opponents of state Superintendent Ryan Walters. However, CCOSA Executive Director Pam Deering emphasized that the survey was meant to collect empirical evidence of the reported issues, not for political purposes.

Delays in the approval process have resulted in extended delays overall, and this has impacted the districts’ ability to serve their students effectively.

Complaints about inefficiency in the agency’s federal programs office are not new, as the former program manager of grant development and compliance, Pamela Smith-Gordon, resigned in October citing significant obstacles that hindered the agency’s progress.

Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, speaks at an event at the Jim Thorpe Office Building. McBride said state Superintendent Ryan Walters hasn’t been transparent about operations at the Oklahoma State Department of Education. (Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)

Representative Mark McBride, the chairperson of the House budget committee on education, expressed concern about Pamela Smith-Gordon’s resignation and the findings of the CCOSA survey. He also stated that he has faced difficulties in obtaining information from the agency, and accused Superintendent Walters and his senior advisor of being uncooperative and lacking transparency.

Langston responded to McBride’s complaints, but his response was dismissive and did not address the concerns raised.