Despite all the media attention to federal programs like No Child Left Behind, the federal government does not contribute a large amount to running America's schools. And the federal money that is given to schools often comes with strings attached.
On average, Oklahoma’s K-12 schools receive about eight percent of their funding from the federal government, fifty percent from the state budget and the rest from local taxes. Bear in mind that Oklahoma school districts have varying funding percentages due to the local tax factor.
Education funding is the single largest expenditure in the Oklahoma state budget- over 3.4 billion. One Oklahoma state representative believes that total is actually 2 billion higher. Oklahoma State Rep. David Brumbaugh, (R-Broken Arrow) is conducting an interim study on where Oklahoma secondary education dollars are being spent and says, “Oklahomans spend $5.4 billion on education, or $8,411 per student a year according to the Friedman Foundation, which doesn’t include the dedicated revenues that are going to schools that don’t go through the appropriations process,” said Brumbaugh. “That alone indicates we need greater transparency and accountability on actual costs. Furthermore, funding for things like debt service, CareerTech, bursars, pensions, or depreciation on buildings and assets are not currently included in those figures; I believe that data should be made easily accessible to the public. Overall, costs continue to go up, yet in many school districts less than half of expenditures are getting to the classroom.”
Brumbaugh’s demand for accountability and transparency from education is a good first step. Rep. Corey Holland, (R-Marlow) has pledged to shine the light on where/how higher education is spending our tax dollars. The key will be for other state legislators to get on board and demand accountability from education on where tax dollars are being spent.
Education dollars not getting to the classroom is not just an Oklahoma problem, it’s a national one. In a 2010 study conducted by the National Center for Policy Analysis, Michael Barba wrote, “Public education now costs federal, state and local governments upward of $500 billion annually. This total is up from $354 billion 15 years ago and currently represents the largest state and local government expenditure. While spending increased nearly 50 percent, enrollment increased by just over 10 percent, reading and science scores held steady and on-time graduation hovered at 70 percent. Instead of cutting dollars spent in the classroom, state legislators across America should require clear accounting for how education tax dollars are spent, cap non-instructional spending and limit the growth of spending outside the classroom.”
In Texas, rising administration costs in public education is also being questioned. Texas State Representative Erwin Cain, (R-Sulpher Springs) says in the Lone Star state for every five teachers employed in Texas public schools in the 1970s, there were just two non-teachers. Since 2004, non-teachers have been hired at nearly three times the rate of in-classroom teachers in Texas and out of classroom employees now equal those in the classroom. Cain believes this is a disturbing trend.
If Texas has too much education administration costs, what about Oklahoma? The Sooner state has more total school districts than Texas. Each one of those districts has buildings, buses, and administration. 52 cents of every dollar allocated for K-12 education in Oklahoma goes for non-classroom related activity. This is not a new development, but has been ongoing for years in Oklahoma, yet no lawmaker wants to jeopardize their political career by addressing the dreaded ‘C” word-consolidation- so each year the education political football is kicked to the next legislature.
To fix the problem will require legislative leadership with the same attitude of Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) from the movie “Lean on Me.” They will have to forget their career, their retirement, their legacy and their security and do what is right. Like ‘Crazy Joe,” they will have to make tough decisions that will upset the establishment. But I believe like Joe they will be rewarded with a legacy that they made decisions that made a profound positive impact on this state.