The Edmond Sun

Opinion

June 2, 2014

Only 50 percent of Oklahoma’s employees in education are educators

OKLA. CITY — In Oklahoma, defenders of the government school monopoly are trying out a new tactic in their never-ending struggle to convince you that the system isn’t wasting huge amounts of money. Don’t believe it. In Oklahoma as in every other state, the government school system is chock full of wasteful bloat.

The latest tactic is to highlight a misleading statistic on administrative costs. Last month, a coalition of special interest groups representing Oklahoma school administrators began pushing out a press release trumpeting that only 3.5 percent of public school spending in Oklahoma public schools goes to administration.

Suspiciously, right after announcing the figure, the administrators’ press release rushes to say something that appears irrelevant to the point: “Section 18-124 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes defines administrative costs in public schools and establishes caps on the amount of the funds districts can use to pay for central office administrators and staff. These costs are typically referred to as ‘administrative costs’ in rhetoric regarding education funding.”

Why this fussy attention to the definition of what counts as “administrative costs?” It could be because states have an incentive to tweak their official definitions in ways that reduce the amount of spending that gets called “administrative.” They look a lot better when that number is lower, and most people don’t stop to check the definitions.

The data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Education sets its own definitions for categories of spending. This is useful for making valid comparisons across states, but it also reduces the danger of shenanigans in the definitions. Where government agencies are collecting data on government systems you can never fully escape self-serving incentives, but in my experience the federal education data professionals have a reasonably good track record of showing the factual statistics. So it’s useful to turn to their data and see what they say Oklahoma spends.

According to the most recently available federal budget data, 8 percent of Oklahoma public education spending went to administration in 2010-11. That includes 5 percent ($266,368,000) for administration in local schools and 3 percent ($165,215,000) for administration at the district and state levels. That’s roughly in line with the nationwide figure, which is 7 percent for administration at local, district, and state levels.

However, there are even more eye-catching numbers elsewhere in the public school budget. Most Oklahomans would probably be shocked to learn that only 51 percent of public education spending in their state goes to what is supposed to be the core function of schools: instruction. The rest goes not only to administration but to a variety of “support services” and “other expenditures” like guidance counselors, nurses, buses and cafeterias.

This imbalance is also reflected in the education workforce. Only half of Oklahoma’s public education employees are teachers. In fact, the most up-to-date staffing statistics reveal that, after hovering just above the half-teachers mark in recent years, Oklahoma has now fallen a tiny bit below it in 2011-12. Only 41,349 of the 82,719 full-time equivalent public education employees in Oklahoma are teachers. The rest are administrators, aides, guidance counselors, nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc. (On all these figures, Oklahoma is roughly in line with the nation at large.)

Why carry all these inessential services on the public payroll? I’ll admit that schools need some administrators and nurses. But the army of government guidance counselors is crowding out families, churches and other cultural institutions that used to raise our children. And why employ a legion of cafeteria workers and bus drivers? We could save millions and get better quality by contracting for these services with providers in the private sector. Or does government have a special expertise in these areas I’m not aware of?

Of course, we already know the answer to the question “why carry all these inessential services on the public payroll?” It’s so their unions can keep the dues money rolling in. The unions, in turn, ensure political protection for their monopoly by mobilizing their members as voters in elections for legislatures and school boards. Politicians in both parties and the government school unions look out for each other, and everyone wins — except for the rest of us.

I’ll offer the public school administrators a deal. I’ll support permanently doubling the amount of money we spend on administrators. In exchange, they have to support one of the following two proposals: Schools must contract all non-educational services from private providers, or (even better) parents get education savings accounts that enable them to choose any school, public or private, for their children.

I think I know what the administrators will say to that deal — and that’s all you really need to know about whether it’s worth throwing more money at the government school monopoly.

 

GREG FORSTER (Ph.D., Yale University) is a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. His research has appeared in peer-reviewed publications including Teachers College Record, as well as in the Washington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and numerous other publications.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • 'Too big to fail' equals 'too eager to borrow'

    Four years ago this month, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, promising that the 848-page financial law would “put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all,” he said. But recently, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a Detroit crowd that “the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they got too big to fail in 2008.”
    Who’s right?

    July 30, 2014

  • Sheltons travel for better life for family

    Some time around 1865 a mixed-race African American couple, William and Mary Shelton, made their way from Mississippi to east Texas. Nothing is known for certain of their origins in he Magnolia state, or the circumstances under which they began their new lives in Texas.

    July 29, 2014

  • Film critic Turan produces book

    Kenneth Turan, who is the film critic for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” has written a book “Not to be Missed, Fifty-Four Favorites from a Life Time of Film.” His list of movies span the gamut from the beginnings of filmmaking through the present day.
    There are some surprising omissions on his list. While he includes two films, “A Touch of Evil” and Chimes at Midnight” made by Orson Welles, and one, “The Third Man,” that Welles starred in but did not direct. He did not however, include “Citizen Kane,” that was the first movie Welles made, that is  often cited by both film critics and historians as a favorite film.

    July 28, 2014

  • Logan County’s disputed zone

    Watchers of “Star Trek” may recall the episode from the original series entitled, “Day of the Dove.” In this episode, Captain Kirk and his crew are forced by a series of circumstances into a confrontation with the Klingons. The conflict eventually resolves after Kirk realizes that the circumstances have been intentionally designed by an alien force which feeds off negative emotions, especially fear and anger. Kirk and his crew communicate this fact to the Klingons and the conflict subsides. No longer feeding upon confrontation, the alien force is weakened and successfully driven away.

    July 28, 2014

  • Russell leads in Sun poll

    Polling results of an unscientific poll at www.edmondsun.com show that Steve Russell, GOP candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, is in the lead with 57 percent of the vote ahead of the Aug. 26 runoff election. Thirty readers participated in the online poll.

    July 28, 2014

  • Healthier and Wealthier? Not in Oklahoma

    Increased copays, decreased coverage, diminished health care access, reduced provider budgets and increased frustration are all the outcomes of the Legislature’s 2014 health care funding decisions. Unlike some years in the past when a languishing state economy forced legislators into making cuts, the undesirable outcomes this year could easily have been avoided.

    July 26, 2014

  • Medicaid reform a necessity

    Historically, education spending by the state of Oklahoma has been the largest budget item. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the state of Oklahoma spends more on Medicaid (operated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority) than common education and higher education combined, according to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

    July 25, 2014

  • Remembering lessons from 1974

    This week marks the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in America’s constitutional history. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 to order the Nixon White House to turn over audiotapes that would prove the president and his close aides were guilty of criminal violations. This ruling established with crystal clarity that the executive branch could not hide behind the shield of executive privilege to protect itself from the consequences of illegal behavior. It was a triumph for the continued vitality of our constitutional form of government.

    July 25, 2014

  • RedBlueAmerica: Is parenting being criminalized in America?

    Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald’s employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
    Is it a crime to parent “free-range” kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
    I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

    July 23, 2014

Poll

The runoff race for the 5th District congressional seat is set for Aug. 26. If the voting were today, which candidate would you support?

Al McAffrey
Tom Guild
Undecided
     View Results