Education resources questioned; experts recommend path to reform
Stacy Martin, Investigative Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY – Use of state education resources are being questioned amid findings that public school spending is nearing an all-time high. Public education revenues have risen from $7.40 billion in 2006 to $8.79 billion in 2016 fueled largely by increases in local revenue sources rather than state appropriations, according to public records.
Experts see confusion caused by people talking about revenues interchangeably with appropriations.
“But even appropriations are pretty stable,” said Curtis Shelton, policy research fellow for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
So where is all the money going? Analysts say that school administrators are wasting money on special programs and “non-teachers.”
A report by Dr. Benjamin Scafidi, professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, recently showed Oklahoma now employs more non-teaching personnel than teachers, as Shelton pointed out.
Jonathan Small, president of OCPA, observed, “We could have already given every public school teacher in Oklahoma a $7,042 raise if we had simply increased our non-teaching staff growth at the same rate as our student enrollment growth.”
Using the data that the Oklahoma State Department of Education reports to the U.S. Department of Education, Scafidi found that between fiscal years 1993 and 2014 enrollment in Oklahoma public schools increased by 14 percent.
The number of teachers rose by a comparable 13 percent. But non-teaching school staffs soared a dramatic 34 percent.
“We’re actually quite a bit above average when it comes to non-teaching personnel,” Shelton said. “That’s a big area where the money is going.“
Public records show the average Oklahoma teacher’s compensation is $45,245 compared with a regional average of $48,103. The beginning teachers pay of $31,600 hasn’t been increased since 2008. That is the number that draws attention.
But public records show that nearly half of the state’s 41,047 teachers have taught 20 years or more, placing them at the upper end of the wage scale.
Another analyst more sharply criticized the way schools are run.
“We seem to be, compared with other states, misallocating resources,”said Byron Schlomach, director of the 1889 Institute, a conservative think tank.
“Public education is absolutely rife with waste,” he said. “It’s so corrupt that they don’t even know it. “All these superintendents, and these boards education, just got used to wasting resources. And I consider it a type of corruption.
“The kind of waste I’m talking about is kind of hard to put your finger on. It’s sort of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ kind of waste. They get hung up on ideologies rather than what works in the classroom. In my opinion, they have too many counselors for example. They have too many principals.”
Additionally, he said too much funding is being thrown at Pre-K and kindergarten programs. Oklahoma is only one of a handful of states that offers universal Pre-K.
“There is a lot going on in school funding…such that the system is being horribly gamed,” said Schlomach. “So, I have a hard time taking anybody seriously.”
He called the so-called teacher shortage “a red herring” or at most, “trivial.”
“I’ll know there is a teacher shortage when school administrators radically reorder how they use resources. When they start complaining, they’re not able to get their core mission accomplished. That’s when I’ll know there is a true teacher shortage.”
Gov. Mary Fallin recently issued an executive order directing the State Department of Education to determine a definition of administrative overhead in schools, and directing the department to identify high-administrative cost school districts with an eye towards consolidation.There are currently 513 school districts across the state, a number many consider excessive.
Fallin’s order is “way long overdue,” said Schlomach.
NOTE: Stacy Martin is an experienced, award-winning investigative journalist.