The Edmond Sun


March 30, 2014

Education rally presents bad optics

EDMOND — Various school-employee labor unions and other members of the public-education community will converge on the state Capitol Monday for an “education funding rally.”

This is a bad idea.

First, the optics are bad. They’re bad if a district cancels classes, especially after all the recent snow days.

And they’re bad if a district holds classes (as Edmond is doing) but with widespread use of substitute teachers. The Edmond Sun recently reported that “Edmond’s goal is 10 percent faculty participation” at the rally.

“U.S. teachers take off an average of 9.4 days (roughly 1 day per month) each during a typical 180-day school year,” former Wall Street Journal education reporter June Kronholz writes. “By that estimate, the average child has substitute teachers for more than six months of his school career.”

Kronholz cites Duke researchers who “found that being taught by a sub for 10 days a year has a larger effect on a child’s math score than if he’d changed schools, and about half the size of the effect of poverty.”

Oklahoma taxpayers who work some 240 days a year might be startled to learn that, even with their abbreviated work year, 31 percent of Oklahoma teachers were absent more than 10 days during the 2009-10 school year, according to a report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “The costs of teacher absence, both in financial and academic terms, can no longer be borne in silence,” CAP says.

Hats off to the thousands of educators statewide who will remain faithful at their post on March 31.

Lobbying for more money simply reinforces the unsavory teachers-as-Teamsters perception. And it’s especially inappropriate when one considers that Oklahoma’s education revenues — are you ready for this? — are at an all-time high.

Earlier this month my colleague Jonathan Small, a certified public accountant, asked the state Department of Education for the latest figures on total (federal, state, and local) available common-education revenues. On the OCPA blog Small writes that Oklahoma’s per-pupil revenues — a whopping $12,206 in FY-2013 — are at record levels. Apparently one Tahlequah administrator wasn’t kidding when she helpfully informed citizens in 2012 that “there has never been enough revenue for public education, and there never will be.”

Per-pupil revenues in Edmond are also at record-high levels. “During the 2008-09 school year, total available revenues for Edmond Public Schools totaled $231.6 million, or $12,054 per student,” Small reports. “During the 2012-13 school year, those revenues had grown to $279.7 million, or $13,120 per student.”

Yes, “the average daily attendance for Edmond public schools grew from 19,213 in 2008-09 to 21,324 in 2012-13, an increase of 11 percent,” Small reports. “But total available revenues for Edmond’s public schools grew by 20.8 percent over this same period.” How so? For one thing, Edmond’s local revenues grew by 15.8 percent while state revenues available for Edmond declined by only 2.7 percent.

So there’s no shortage of money in this state. Where is it going? Economist Benjamin Scafidi, looking at federal data for the time period available (FY 1998 to FY 2011), noticed that Oklahoma increased employment in school district administration by 49 percent — while the number of students in Oklahoma public schools increased by only 6 percent.

It’s no wonder there is no necessary relationship between spending and student performance in this country. “When you look at the statistics,” President Obama has acknowledged, “the fact is that our per-pupil spending has gone up during the last couple of decades even as results have gone down.”

Edmond residents are paying higher property taxes for the privilege of living in the Edmond school district. And yet, Edmond’s schools are mediocre by international standards, according to Consider this: If you picked up the Edmond school district and plopped it down in Singapore, the average Edmond student would be at the 31st percentile in math achievement.

Though 58 percent of Oklahoma voters think public-school funding is too low (according to a 2013 survey released by the Friedman Foundation and OCPA), Oklahomans also, paradoxically, think more spending won’t boost learning. Only 32 percent of voters in a 2010 SoonerPoll agreed that “if more money is spent on public schools in my district, students will learn more.” Twice that number disagreed.

In his inspiring 2009 book “The Beautiful Tree,” education professor James Tooley describes the many successful, low-cost private schools run by entrepreneurs in the worst slums of India, Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere. Fed up with poor-performing, unaccountable public schools, poor parents in some of the most destitute places in the world are shelling out money to uncertified teachers who are earning peanuts — and are frequently outperforming the government’s schools.

I am unpersuaded that Oklahoma’s lavishly funded, heavily unionized government monopoly needs, or will make productive use of, more money.

BRANDON DUTCHER, an Edmond resident, is senior vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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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
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