This began when I was assigned to listen to our superintendent plea for more funds for education last year. Again, this year I went to the same meeting. But this year was different. He’s organized a task force of citizens who are whipped into a frenzy of demands that the state appropriate more money for common education. And such a group is also a natural for the Dems to enlist against my guy, who ironically is very supportive of education. But politics being the slogan, the short answer, that it is, this will be used to play against anyone prudent about finances.
The instigator of the debate has been an organization CBPP which stands for some sort of advocacy group for public policy spending, based in Washington—not in Oklahoma. They ‘studied’ education spending and found it way too low all over the country, but in particular published a graph showing OK the worst offender, having cut education 22.8% since the recession. This is stunning since only in one year, 2011, were funds cut by 4%, at the behest of our Governor Fallin to go easy on education. All other agencies got a 10% ax. State budgets must balance. We can’t print money like Washington. When a recession hits, state revenues plunge. So in 2004 we had revenue/budget of $5.1Billion; 2008, $7.1B; 2010,$6.0B; by 2012 it had recovered to $6.8B. If you are interested in this sort of thing, you can look up numbers (albeit awkwardly) on the state website http://ok.gov. And during the same time common education budgets went from $1.75B to a high of $2.48B in 2008 to $2.36B in FY 2014 (and projected to propose $2.5B next year). Then it is a simple matter to divide 2.36 by 1.75 and find a 35% increase over the last decade, although a 5% loss from the salad days before the R.
How then the 22.8% decline. CBPP uses some hocus pocus to put in some unknown but large inflation factor and figures a 6% increase in number of students. This stretches that 5% 2008-2014 loss into the massive “cut”. Statistics don’t lie but statisticians do. By the way, CBPP is a leftist outfit that favors handing out abortifacients to minors and hates vouchers. And the journalist who wrote an article for them is from Los Angeles Times.
So again using the state website I discovered that from 2004 to 2014 Oklahoma has a 15% increase in students—a direct mirror of the census statistics that say our state is growing by 15% per decade. So you could argue one way or another that a 35% increase in state budget does or does not take care of a 15% increase of students in the face of whatever inflation is.
What did amaze me is what education funding is made of. In OK it looks like this.
$2.4B State budget spending
$1.1B Property tax share for schools
$0.6B bond issues and sinking funds
Divide this by the 673,000 estimated students and you get almost exactly what NEA estimates as $8285 spent per student. The US Census Bureau says, “Hey! Some students drop out or move out of state.” So they convert to student-years and get $8863 per student spent. Our leftist pals at CBPP said it was $3038 per student. But if you divide the 673,000 into $2.4B you still get a number of about $3600. However did they get such a low figger? Methinks they just make stuff up.
Look at state budget again and you see there are all sorts of revenue sources. Townships in OK reserve one section for rental for support of schools. That is part of state revenue. Casinos were sold to the voters as a big equalizer for schools since a percentage of operation goes to schools. A proportion of income taxes is designated for schools. In all, 33.8% of the state budget is for common schools and total education takes slightly over 50% of the entire state budget. If truth-in-advertizing laws governed our state budget it should be described as “education plus other items” That’s not all. 78% of our county property taxes go for common ed. But perhaps the most interesting one is those fees, etc. When you go to a football game and plunk down $6 or a school play for $15, that gets accounted for in a myriad of ways by schools. Fees charged students or all those magazine sales the band holds are also part of this. And the Federal portion is labyrinthine with grants and subisidies. Bottom line, we spend money on schools from a lot of places.
But here’s the weird thing. Does ed spending translate into better ed? Utah spends $7400 per student while DC spends over $29,000. Utah gets better results. Likewise a line-up of states in our area shows OK gets good bang for the buck—lowest spending but #30 in student achievement in USA. Missouri and KS spend the most, about $12000 per student, and MO gets pitiful results--#42. AR spends just a little more than OK at about $9500 but comes in #5. What does AR know that MO doesn’t?
Talk to teachers and they say it is teachers being free to teach plus involved parents.
Indeed. Perhaps the most pitiful federal program is Headstart. $23,000 per student (4 yr olds!) and Headstart students cannot out test peers by second grade. This reflects the impoverished parents. Likewise, I suspect MO has too many KC and StL ghetto inhabitants which pull the state average down.
Where would you go to see inspired teachers and involved parents? I nominate our church Lutheran school in which teachers make only 80% of the market of public teachers, but are given a very free hand to teach. When parents plunk down their own hard-earned cash, they tend to be very involved. There may also be fewer social problems. When a kid sees mom getting beat up by a drunk dad, it’s hard to concentrate on math at school. At any rate, 8th graders at our parochial school get grade 11 plus achievement every year. Last year it was 11.6. Of the 20 kids in the class, 6 tested “college ready” in all 4 subject areas. Only two students didn’t test “college ready” in at least one subject. And of the 189 K-12 students, 24 were on scholarship aid (poor parents). I asked how much time the teachers spend doing achievement testing. About 3 school days equivalent each year was the answer. Public school teachers spend twice this amount and then spend a lot more time teaching the test since there is so much pressure to perform.
So the bottom line is that we owe a round of applause for our public school teachers who have given us results in the middle with the lowest funding in our area. Over half our state moneys are spent on education and without a tax increase (unlikely) we probably won’t see massive ed spending, even if the super intends it that way. He needs to learn to live on what the taxpayers say they have. Spend wisely. Is $300,000 for new football Astroturf wise when our team is 0-10? I dunno. Just asking questions.