Monday, September 8, 2014


Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair
     In September 1982, Oklahoma voters passed in a statewide vote State Question #553, a pari-mutuel referendum.  The law allowed betting on horse races in Oklahoma with the state’s take on the money earmarked for the public schools. 
     In September 1984, Oklahoma voters went to the polls and voted to allow counties to determine if they wanted ‘liquor by the drink’ in their county.  The vote was close- 52%-48% and it was the third time it had been on the ballot.  Voters were told the tax money on the hooch consumed at restaurants was going to the public schools.
     In 2004, Oklahoma voters passed a Tribal-State gaming compact that required the tribes to share in the revenue generated from the 80 plus casinos in the state.  Governor Brad Henry said the compact would provide $70-80 million annually for public education.  It generated less than a third that number the first year and has never lived up to the estimates.
     Also in 2004, Oklahomans approved the state lottery.  During the campaign for the lottery, then State Treasurer Scott Meacham estimated the lottery would bring in about $150 million a year for Oklahoma public schools and colleges. The lottery has yet to raise half that amount.
     For over thirty years Oklahoma voters have been willing to drink, smoke and bet in order to help improve education in Oklahoma.  The question is- has the increased money given to education improved public education in Oklahoma?
     Test scores indicate the funding per student matters little in the education of a child.  Washington DC has the highest per-pupil spending average in the nation, but their test scores are near the bottom.  Utah spends much less per student, but their test scores are in the top 1/3 of the country. 
     When James Coleman, a University of Chicago socialist,  was commissioned by the federal government to conduct a comprehensive study on public education in America, the expectations would be that he would conclude money was the answer to education.  But Coleman’s report—titled "Equality of Educational Opportunity" (or often simply called the "Coleman Report") presented as evidence, or an argument, that school funding had little effect on student achievement.  He isolated two primary factors that have more to do with student success than any other—demographics and family background.  Cole found that kids from stable two-parent homes where there are books on the shelves, limits on television time, and the parents were educated fostered an expectation of academic success.  He found children from poor single-parent households where drugs, violence, sloth, and other factors were present sent a signal that it doesn’t really matter how you do in school, or whether you go at all. 
    The bottom line is that increased funding to education can’t alter those conditions. Oklahoma could triple our per-pupil spending average and test score numbers would barely budge.  We do have an education‘funding’ issue in Oklahoma- only half of our education dollar gets to the classroom, where it makes a difference.  Half of Oklahoma’s education dollar is spent on buildings, buses and administration.  That leads to the fundamental root cause of why money is not available for teaching--- too many school districts. 
     Oklahoma has more school districts and administrators than the whole state of Texas!  Think about that for a second.  A state four times our size in land mass and eight times larger in population has less school districts than Oklahoma.  There are over 500 school districts in Oklahoma- an average of seven per county.  It’s time to face facts and address school consolidation. 
      The state legislature should appoint a nine(9) member commission similar to BRAC to evaluate every school district in Oklahoma and close those that are underperforming. Their report should be voted on up or down- no politics involved.  It would not be popular public policy in rural Oklahoma, but as a product of a rural school district, I can assure you it is the right thing to do.
      It’s a myth the more a district spends per-pupil will produce a better education product.  It has been proven time and time again to be inaccurate.  It’s not just about money and it is time the public school community starting thinking outside the box.  They should embrace on-line learning.  Educators should encourage parents to invest in their children’s education, not push them out of the decision making process.  Public education has a ‘big brother’ mentality and often attempt to leave out the parents in important decisions.  Changes like this cost little or no money and would improve education immensely.  As Ben Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

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