By: David Blatt
Another year has gone by, and Oklahoma still leads the nation in cuts to education.
In its most recent 50-state comparison of school funding, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Oklahoma’s per-pupil state aid funding – the most important funding source for schools’ daily operating expenses and the salaries of teachers and other school staff – is down 28.2 percent since 2008 adjusted for inflation. No other state even tops 20 percent.
While there are other measures of funding besides general state aid funding, these also show Oklahoma’s cuts to be among the most severe.
Most Oklahomans recognize the reality of school underfunding. They know that the Legislature’s repeated failure to fund schools is the reason why Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is getting worse, schools are hiring more underqualified teachers, class sizes are rising, and one in five school districts no longer holds classes five days a week.
However, two common myths are frequently invoked by certain lawmakers and advocacy groups to resist admitting that Oklahoma needs to increase revenues for education – especially if it means raising taxes.
The first myth is that education revenue is at an all-time high. PolitiFact analyzed this claim and found it to be “mostly false,” concluding that when “population and economic growth are added in, spending has been higher over most of the past decade.” OK Policy finds that, adjusted for inflation, per-pupil revenue from all local, state, and federal sources combined is down 12 percent compared with the pre-recession peak in 2009.
The second, more long-standing myth is that if Oklahoma could only reduce the amount it spends supporting so many school districts, we’d have more than enough to pay our teachers properly. The numbers prove otherwise.
School district administration accounted for $237 per student in 2015, about 3 percent of total school spending. This ranks us right in the middle of the U.S. Meanwhile, our rank for per pupil spending on instruction is near the lowest – 47th. If the state somehow moved every dollar that we spend on district administration into instruction, our ranking would… still be 47th. We wouldn’t move the needle a single spot.
If lawmakers hope to succeed at improving education in Oklahoma, they should set aside these myths and finally get serious about reversing the funding cuts to our schools.
David Blatt is executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, www.okpolicy.org.