How Do I Leap The (60% that is)? Let Me Count The Ways

Palo Duro Canyon, near Canyon, Texas, ID’d by Linda Ford Murphy

Compile a list of every public school district “that spends less than sixty percent (60%) of their budget on instructional expenditures.”

That is the seemingly simple Executive Order  given to the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent by Governor Fallin.  A percentage is the quotient two numbers, in this case “instructional expenditures” divided by “their budget”.  The directive contains no definition of either.  Let the games begin.  If I want to compile a long list of school districts that spend less than 60% of their budget on instructional expenditures, then I want the definition of “budget” that gives the largest number AND the definition of “instructional expenditures” that gives the smallest number.

Districts do produce an official budget that reports projected expenditures and revenues for all funds.  The largest number in a budget will be the total revenue for all funds.  For all districts statewide in FY 2016 actual revenues available were $8,061.086,091 (the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has published analyses adding clearly marked “non-revenue receipts” of over $751 million and would use that to pad the total—but they are Limited Thinkers).  Function 1000, “Instruction”, expenditures for all funds totaled $2,931,460,665, giving all school districts statewide a percentage of actual revenues spent on instructional expenditures of 36.4%.  The main reason the revenue number is so large is because it includes carryover or fund balances in the total.  While arguably school districts could have expended their balances of $2,931 million in 2016, they could not have expected to repeat that amount because the fund balances are one-time revenues; new revenues collected for 2016 totaled $6,012,945,264.  Using that number instead yields 48.8%, a huge improvement, but still far short of the target 60%.

Keeping those “all funds” revenue numbers in mind let’s turn to “all funds” expenditures.  The total for 2016 was $6,712,315,660, which if used in the calculation would yield 43.7%.  Looks like we’ve moved backwards.  What it illustrates is a common error (or intentional exaggeration as Limited Thinkers at Oklahoma’s Stink Tanks regularly have done, see Double, Double, Toil and Trouble ) in totaling school district expenditures, namely including both the sinking and bond fund expenditures.  Doing so means including both the expenditure of the borrowed funds and the payments made to repay the debt, thus double counting the expenditures for building buildings, buying buses, acquiring textbooks, etc.    If we eliminate the bond funds, keeping the sinking fund, then total instructional expenditures (function 1000) drop to $2,892,389,217 and total expenditures to $6,065,186,175 giving all school districts a calculation of 47.7% expended on “Instruction”.

Expenditures, like revenues, also have a category that limited thinkers include to exaggerate totals by double counting, namely functions 5200 to 5900.  These functions are accounting entries to track expenditures, really transfers, between funds and, if included, overstate total expenditures in the same way that reimbursing your spouse for a purchase made does not increase family expenditures.  Making this adjustment raises the calculation a little to 48.5%.   I expect there will be other adjustments, most importantly not including all funds.  Here they are in reverse order.

81-88 Trust and Agency Funds and 50 Endowment Fund

These funds come from various sources usually with specific restrictions on their use, and in some instances are strictly pass-through accounts.  They vary greatly among districts and any rational implementation of the executive order will exclude them.  The calculation is now 48.7%.

60 School Activity Fund

How does a District use money raised for a band trip to pay for classroom instruction?  Even though some of these funds are used for instruction, it’s pretty unlikely activity funds will remain in the calculation, so the calculation would then be 49.7%.

41 Sinking Fund and 31-39 Bond Funds

As explained above at least one of these has to be eliminated due to double counting.   A major problem with keeping either in the calculation is that careful examination would likely reveal that the largest use is the construction/repair of school buildings which expenditures are separated from function 1000 and reported in the 4000 function category.  But how does a function 1000 teacher have class without a classroom?   By some illogic one of these might make the cut, though the current “administrative cost” calculation (Title 70, Okla. Statutes, Sect. 18-124) includes only the General Fund.  If both Sinking and Bond funds are eliminated the calculation becomes 55.2%

24 OKC Maps Trust and 25 Municipal Tax Levy

These funds are unique to only a few districts.  For the purpose of establishing statewide norms/comparisons these are best eliminated.  The calculation is now 55.3%.

22 Child Nutrition Fund (and Fund 11 Function 3000)

The Child Nutrition Fund cannot have function 1000 expenditures for instruction.  Instead these expenditures must be coded within the 3000 function category, unless they are of the accounting/double counting kind in 5000.  Some districts operate their Child Nutrition program in their general fund 11 and track it by the 3000 function category.   Unless school districts are expected to divert school lunch money to teacher salaries child nutrition expenditures should be eliminated.  The calculation then becomes 59.4%.

21 Building Fund

The statutory purposes of the Building Fund do not include paying teacher salaries and these expenditures are used primarily for the operation and maintenance of school buildings (less than one percent was coded to Instruction in 2016).  It is doubtful the executive order calculation will include the Building Fund (though I could make a counter argument).  If eliminated as expected the statewide calculation becomes 61.8%.

12 CO-OP Fund

The only co-ops I’ve had experience with were entirely function 1000 instruction, but statewide they exist for non-instructional purposes as well.  I haven’t reviewed their coding enough to discern if all double counting is excluded.  Regardless, excluding this Fund statewide slightly raises the percentage but, rounded, it is still 61.8%.

As you can see what funds are included matter.  That final statewide percentage is the result of dividing Function 1000 instructional expenditures of $2,828,815,608 in school districts’ General Fund 11 by their total expenditures, adjusted by removing Function 3000 (child nutrition) and Functions 5200-5900 (transfers), of $4,574,266,337.56.  Using this most likely calculation I expect a preponderance of school districts will meet the 60% standard.

For those districts that fall short here are a couple of fairness considerations.  First, as I’ve alluded to earlier, not all expenditures that are essential to have classroom instruction are included in Function 1000, such as heating, cooling and maintaining the classrooms where instruction occurs.  The disparity among school districts in their Building and Bond Funds capacities are wide and long (see Cockamamie? You Don’t Know Cockamamie!) because they are based solely on a local district’s property valuation per student.  This wide disparity permits wealthier districts to easily provide and maintain their classroom facilities without use of scarce General Fund revenues, which in turn permits a greater percentage to be devoted to “Instruction”.  By contrast poorer school districts must resort to using the General Fund to maintain their classrooms, necessarily limiting the amount available for “Instruction”.

Second, a very strong argument can be made that many expenditures in the 2000 function category, especially 2100 and 2200, and even 2400 should be included (see Selected OCAS Functions ).  Most notable, I think, are functions 2135 through 2180, which are services in support of the instructional programs for students with Individualized Education Programs under the IDEA federal law.   Translated, why do we rely on accounting definitions to determine what is “Instruction”?  Just including expenditures within Function 2100 raises the statewide calculation to 68.6%.

One final thought that has been made by many others:  Give teachers a $5,000 pay raise, estimated for FY 2016 to cost $150,000,000, and the percentage increases to 70%–Duh!  See:  http://www.enidnews.com/news/hofmeister-proposes-teacher-pay-increase/article_73f55ca4-a5af-11e4-9a17-d3aa7068e0b6.html

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

 

Rearranging Deck Chairs

Lewis and Clark Visitor Center, Nebraska City, NE, ID’d by Diane Branstetter

The Titanic has come to mind twice recently:  first when a friend told me he and his husband are cruising from England to the United States for a vacation, primarily to get away from their cell phones, and second when I read Making Oklahoma’s School Funding More Rational: Simplifying the WADM Calculation, a policy paper by Byron Schlomach of the 1889 Institute Stink Tank.

WADM as used in the state funding formula means “weighted average daily membership”.  Few would dispute the fairness of allocating state funding in a way that assures school districts have approximately the same financial resources per student they are educating.  All districts are required to report their ADM, average daily membership, as the count of the number of students enrolled.  The “weighted” part exists in the state funding formula because the political consensus, based on educators’ experience and research, is that students with certain characteristics cost more to educate than others.  The largest weightings Oklahoma uses have to do with the students’ grade level (early childhood and high school have greater weights), students with disabilities, and students who are economically disadvantaged, i.e. family income is low.  The effect of altering, or even eliminating, weightings is to increase funding to some districts paid for entirely by decreasing funding to other districts.  In the same way that rearranging deck chairs will not keep a sinking ship afloat, changing student weights will not address the overall shortfall of funding for Oklahoma’s public schools.

As our governor and a substantial majority in our legislature are aware, Oklahoma’s schools are under-funded.   The state aid funding per WADM peaked in FY 2009 at $3,275.60; for FY 2018 it is starting at $3,042.40.  That decline is in the face of steadily rising prices for such essentials as utilities and insurance; additionally, the steady growth in local revenues collected, primarily property taxes, that are part of the state aid calculation somewhat mask the dismal effort made by our state.  Unmasked the state’s effort is shown by this familiar chart:

The Titanic is sinking and Schlomo’s (see A Rise By Any Other Name) rescue attempt is to rearrange the deck chairs, a task for which he is woefully inadequate.

Here are his recommendations for the big three weights, and my critique.

  1. Grade Weights. Current grade weights start out high for pre-K and Kindergarten through 2nd grade (1.3, 1.5, 1.351), drop for 4th through 6th (1.0) and rise for 7th through 12th (1.2).  Schlomo, based on his “perusal” of private school tuition structure, would start low with Pre-K and elementary grades (1.05 and 1.0) and end higher (1.2) in high school.  He thinks lower class sizes and sports are needed for high school students but larger class sizes and nose/butt wiping by lower paid staff will suffice for the younger students.  He needs to spend a day “teaching” kindergartners and another teaching 12th graders and see if he is still of the same, uninformed opinion.  Having actually taught 7th through 12th grades and community college classes for 17 years and having dabbled with pre-school and early elementary classes at our church, I’d flip his scale upside down.  Better yet I’ll stick with the Task Force 2000 recommendations that formed the basis of House Bill 1017 25 years ago (House Bill 1017 25th Anniversary ) until our state engages in a similar process of actual study and research—not a perusal of private school tuition.  In any event, since all school districts have a healthy mix of student ages, little redistribution should result from changes to grade weights.

  1. His primary recommendation for Special Education weights is that somebody else needs to review them; translated, he doesn’t know enough about this critical area to offer any helpful advice. He does make the nonsensical recommendation to eliminate the Summer Program weight.  Special education services are mandated by federal law and the state is ultimately responsible for assuring that the required education is provided.  Oklahoma in turn delegates that responsibility to its public schools.  Therefore, it makes sense that it should provide sufficient funding for these services.  For some students with disabilities it is determined that a summer program is necessary for them to receive the appropriate education required by federal law.  The Summer Program weight is intended to offset the school district’s cost to provide the required program.  It makes no sense to eliminate that weight if the purpose of weights is to offset the cost of the educational services.  He also opines that the category Specific Learning Disability is “sufficiently vague that almost any student could qualify.”  He is apparently afraid that parents will game the system and get their children classified as learning disabled so they can have longer to take tests.  If he bothered to read the six pages in the state special education manual about how a specific learning disability is determined, he would know that saying “almost any student could qualify” demonstrates his ignorance of the statistics of test measurements (to qualify for SLD a student’s score on one or more achievement tests must be 1.5 standard deviation below the student’s intellectual ability test score).

  1. Lastly he recommends eliminating the weight for Economically Disadvantaged. The only people Stink Tanks enjoy disparaging more than government employees (they exempt law enforcement and the military) are the poor.  You see they think the presence of rich people, and middle class stink tankers like Schlomo who feed off their dole, proves that if certain people aren’t rich they have only themselves to blame.  And trying to help them won’t help, it will only make them lazy.  Schlomo ignores an abundance of research on the topic (just Google “economically disadvantaged and educational achievement” and you will find such papers as Starting School at a Disadvantage:  The School Readiness of Poor Children, 2012 Brookings Institute).  Tulsa is blessed to have the Kaiser Foundation working hard to find the right use of additional resources to break the cycle of poverty and unlock the potential of children whose futures would otherwise be bleak.  It makes sense to provide additional resources for similar efforts based on measured concentrations of poverty.

But Schlomo has his most fun accusing Oklahoma families of cheating on school lunch applications so they don’t have to pay for their children’s meals.  His basic argument is that one source of data says only 49% of Oklahoma’s children live in households with incomes below 200% of poverty, yet 64% of Oklahoma’s public school children are receiving free or reduced lunches based on being in a household with incomes less than 185% of poverty.  However, he cheats with his analysis and use of statistics.   Consider that:

*His 49% is of a base that purports to include ALL children regardless of whether attending public or private schools.  The 64% is of a base that only includes public school attendees.  If private school students experience a lower rate of poverty, then his comparison is distorted by some amount.  He could do some real research and make the adjustment (see This Is Too Much Fun).

**Part of his analysis jumps off from Oklahoma’s overall poverty rate of 17.3%, which he uses to extrapolate to school children; yet readily available from the U. S. Census the same year is the poverty rate for Oklahomans ages 5-17 of 21.5%.  Again, his use of the incorrect number distorts the comparison.

***The School Lunch Program has rules intended to qualify students in an expansive way, using direct certification of families receiving TANF and SNAP benefits, residing in institutional settings, allowing a somewhat casual self-reporting of income on the applications, and a “once qualified, valid entire year” standard.  By design the program will overstate the incidence of lower incomes when compared to the     U. S. Census that comes at it through tax returns and other sources that are statistically adjusted year to year.  While honing in on the same information, the two approaches are like apples and oranges.

Candidly, if some parents, out of carelessness, ignorance or greed, have understated their families’ incomes, I find that far more excusable than the sloppy work produced by Schlomo who, possessing a PhD in economics, must know better.  However, just as he suspects parents might knowingly lie on a school lunch application for the price of their child’s school lunches, I suspect Schlomo is willing to play fast and loose with statistics to please the 1889 Institute’s donors with analysis and “facts” that fit their preconceptions.

Upon reflection, perhaps it is preferable to have a documented limited thinker ( Miserables Love Company ,  Double, Double, Toil and Trouble , Later, Sooner ) like Schlomo merely rearranging the deck chairs of our state because we sure don’t want him piloting the ship.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

 

Say It Isn’t So, Jo

This thinker has been blog-free for a month, mostly because my spare time has been taken up learning QuickBooks accounting and preparing for another round with the Oklahoma Tax Commission in the ongoing effort to correct its 20 million dollar error apportioning motor vehicle revenues to school districts.  (see A Turkish de Fright )  Despite now having been told by all four judges who have decided the matter that they got it wrong, the Commission prefers further delay rather than correcting their misdeed.   See the appellate case here: http://www.oscn.net/dockets/GetCaseInformation.aspx?db=appellate&number=SD-115678&cmid=120661

          I confess also delaying because the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs posted November 7, 2017, Teacher Absenteeism is a Problem in Oklahoma’s Public Schools, by contributor J E McReynolds based on an echo tank study, Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, concerning teacher absenteeism that reports traditional public school absenteeism nationally being more than three times the comparable measure in public charter schools.  The data the study relies upon is self-reported, mandated and collected by the Office of Civil Rights for the U. S. Department of Education.  Unlike all the other work put out by the limited thinkers at the OCPA that I’ve reviewed, I cannot find an obvious flaw in this study and that bothers me because the public school teachers I’ve known and worked with for more than fifty years have seemed as disciplined and committed as their private sector counterparts I’ve encountered.

          I can pick at some points, like comparing the OCR stats to private sector sick leave data which seems clearly “apples to oranges” when the teacher data includes personal leave days and the private data does not include vacation leave, which teachers don’t get, but can be used like personal leave.  Still the overall data reported is bothersome because those of us who know teachers matter believe, as the study’s author David Griffith states, “Research confirms what common sense dictates: Students learn less when their teachers aren’t there. According to multiple studies, a ten-day increase in teacher absence results in at least ten fewer days of learning for students.”

          Even though the study, unfortunately, speaks for itself, in typical OCPA fashion, McReynolds has to pile on criticism of Oklahoma’s teachers by cherry-picking the statistics to emphasize.  Here’s his big takeaway from the chart below:  “In eight states, including Oklahoma, absentee rates are at least four times higher.”

The more obvious Oklahoma fact from this chart is that our teachers, in both charter and traditional public schools, experience chronic absenteeism at one of the lowest rates in the nation.  But stating a fact complimentary to classroom teachers, or the “Blob” as the OCPA calls them (This is too much fun), is just not in its DNA or mission to disparage all services provided by government at all levels.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

Cockamamie? You Don’t Know Cockamamie!

Cavanal Mountain, World’s highest hill above Poteau, OK; ID’d by Sue Haskins.

I enjoyed an informative conversation this week with two new friends who are active in Oklahoma City civic affairs.  Some of their stories remind me how fortunate we Tulsans are to be the home of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, not the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and the home of the Tulsa World, not the Daily Oklahoman (or the “Daily Disappointment” as aptly named by Frosty Troy).  Therefore, it pains me only slightly to use this post partly to dig my friends at the World’s editorial board for their recent characterization of our state’s education funding formula as “cockamamie”, a word best defined by Joe “Malarkey” Biden or some other Geezer.

They were reacting to Mayor G. T. Bynum’s State of the City speech to the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce.  Here are the relevant excerpts:

The quality of our educational system in Tulsa is the greatest economic development challenge we face today. It is the greatest quality of life challenge we face today. It is the greatest criminal justice challenge we face today. And I believe with every ounce of my being that if Tulsans could fix it, we would.  But we can’t. Right now, we can pass property-tax initiatives to build football stadiums and fix up buildings and buy iPads for kids – but if we pass a property tax to pay our teachers the kind of wage that will keep them from fleeing to Arkansas or Texas, the state will reduce our allocation by an equivalent amount. They will punish us for trying to help.  This upcoming legislative session, we are going to try to change the dynamic. We’re going to quit waiting for someone else to save us, and try to empower Tulsans to take our destiny into our own hands.  I am so thankful this is part of the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s One Voice agenda, but that is not enough. We need every family, every business owner, every employee, every voter to let your legislators know WE WANT TO HELP. We need their permission to help. I believe if they will let us, we can address this challenge in the same way we’ve addressed those that came before us.

The World’s editorial applauded Bynum’s other initiatives and concluded with this:

We’re enthusiastic about the six initiatives announced by Mayor G.T. Bynum at his State of the City address Thursday. But we’re particularly enthused about his effort to help fund Tulsa Public Schools.  Bynum’s proposals includeda concerted effort to lobby the Legislature to allow municipal property tax increases to fund public school operating expenses without any penalty to state funding.  Tulsa cannot not progress as a city unless it has a public school system that will attract young families. The first, essential step in that direction is adequate funding of education, which the Legislature has repeatedly failed to supply.But state law essentially prevents Tulsans from helping their schools. If the city gives one dollar of operating revenue to the school system, the state would penalize the district almost the same amount in state aid. It’s a cockamamie system that keeps urban schools from improving and has to be changed.  All six initiatives Bynum outlined Thursday show vision and practical wisdom, but his school effort is especially essential to our city’s future, and one deserving the support of all Tulsans.

Here is the One Voice Agenda item referred to by Mayor Bynum:

Funding of Education: Provide municipalities with the ability to supplement state education funding and target the unique priorities of their community. Voters in local communities should be able to increase their investment in their public schools without sacrificing or impacting their state funding. Meanwhile, the state aid formula should continue its role ensuring an adequate base funding level for all schools, with additional increases in state funding directed through that formula.  

Reacting to the World’s editorial I sent this Letter to the Editor:

The World’s Editorial reaction to Mayor Bynum’s proposal to allow local communities to vote property tax increases to fund teacher pay raises is disappointing in its uninformed dismissal of the state’s effort to equalize funding for Oklahoma students as “a cockamamie system that keeps urban schools from improving and has to be changed.”   Likely the most important reform of public education finance in our country’s history has been the implementation of state aid equalization formulas to offset the huge disparity among school districts when financing primarily relied on local property taxes.  The disparity was not caused by differences in local effort, but rather by huge differences in local property wealth to the detriment of students from poor communities. 

Those disparities remain.  Just within Tulsa County a taxpayer in districts with lower valuations per student, namely Sperry, Liberty, Collinsville, Glenpool and Sand Springs, would have to pay more than twice the amount paid by a taxpayer in the Tulsa, Bixby or Jenks districts to fund the same teacher pay raise.  Statewide the disparities are even greater meaning some Oklahomans would have to pay more than forty dollars for every dollar paid by others to keep pace. 

Perhaps Oklahoma’s state aid formula can be tweaked to permit more local funding, particularly to address teacher compensation in urban areas with higher costs of living, but care must be taken so that students in Oklahoma districts with low property wealth are not unduly penalized.  The real “cockamamie system” in Oklahoma that needs to be addressed is not its statutory commitment to assure equal educational opportunity for all Oklahoma students, but rather the constitutional provision requiring a supermajority to raise revenue that has empowered a backward minority in our legislature to block the will of the majority.

We’ll see if it gets published.  As my fellow Tulsans strive to enact legislation that will allow discretionary local funding of schools outside of the state aid equalization formula I intend to be a voice reminding them why there are equalization formulas to begin with.  The most famous school funding equalization litigation came out of Texas, beginning with the 1973 federal case San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez and continuing with the 1989 state case Edgewood v. Kirby .  According to facts from the Edgewood case about Texas school finance, at that time there was a 700 to 1 ratio between the value of taxable property in wealthiest and poorest districts and district spending per student varied from $2,112 to $19,333.  As stated in the Edgewood decision:

There are glaring disparities in the abilities of the various school districts to raise revenues from property taxes because taxable property wealth varies greatly from district to district.   The wealthiest district has over $14,000,000 of property wealth per student, while the poorest has approximately $20,000;  this disparity reflects a 700 to 1 ratio.   The 300,000 students in the lowest-wealth schools have less than 3% of the state’s property wealth to support their education while the 300,000 students in the highest- wealth schools have over 25% of the state’s property wealth;  thus the 300,000 students in the wealthiest districts have more than eight times the property value to support their education as the 300,000 students in the poorest districts.   The average property wealth in the 100 wealthiest districts is more than twenty times greater than the average property wealth in the 100 poorest districts.   Edgewood I.S.D. has $38,854 in property wealth per student;  Alamo Heights I.S.D., in the same county, has $570,109 in property wealth per student.

In Rodriquez the U. S. Supreme Court held that education is not a right protected by the U. S. Constitution, rather it is a function undertaken by the states.  Therefore, efforts to achieve fair funding of education must be worked out state by state.  The Edgewood case was part of the Texas effort to achieve more fairness in financing its schools and it was successful with the Texas Supreme Court agreeing that the right to an education promised to Texas children was being violated by the huge disparities in school funding.  I believe Texas school finance today remains under the active review of its courts.

My son and I were plaintiffs in the original Oklahoma school funding equity lawsuit, Fair School Finance Council v State of Oklahoma .  Decided in 1989 the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to find Oklahoma’s system unconstitutional, holding instead that the issues raised were matters to be worked out through the legislative process.  Because the Court did not find that Oklahoma’s school finance system violated the state’s constitution, the decision does not cite the huge disparities in property tax wealth among Oklahoma school districts like the Texas case did.  However, you can view these disparities for yourself by looking at school district profiles here:  http://www.schoolreportcard.org/report-card/county

This is the top part of the profile for Tulsa Public Schools:

In the first section on “Socioeconomic Data” you see that its property valuation per student (ADM, being average daily membership) is over $60,000, compared to the statewide average of almost $50,000 per student.  The Tulsa Public Schools may serve many students from low income families but the district is not poor by Oklahoma standards.  Contrast that with the other Tulsa County and a sampling of state school districts shown in this table.

What this chart shows us, simply stated, is that if the good citizens of the Maryetta school district in Adair County want to increase pay for their teachers with a new local property tax, like Mayor Bynum, the World and Tulsa Chamber want the opportunity to do, they will have to raise their property taxes more than 40 times as much as would the citizens of Burlington school district in Alfalfa County to fund the same pay raise.

I applaud Mayor Bynum, the Tulsa Chamber and the editorial board of the World for stepping up boldly to advocate for enhanced funding for our community’s schools.  At the same time, I encourage them to be informed about the large disparities in property wealth that exist among school districts, rural and urban, and the reasons we have a state aid formula that works to level the playing field among school districts so that all students have the opportunity for an adequate education.   Whatever empowerment of local communities they advocate needs to be crafted with the understanding that other communities have the same desire to help their schools, but don’t have the same local wealth.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

Brown Boys Dump Plan B on Oklahoma

Heavener Runestone City Park, ID’d by Josh McBee.

I don’t normally have scatological thoughts when writing blog posts, but I have been drafting one titled “Who Will Empty Your Bedpan?” reacting to silliness posted on The 1889 Institute’s website.  Then I woke up this morning to the news that the failure of Plan A yesterday in the legislature’s special session leaves us with Plan B—namely another round of cuts to state agency budgets and the real possibility of elderly Oklahomans being denied Medicaid services like nursing home care. 

As I will elaborate upon in that future post, “Who will empty your bedpan?” was a rhetorical question I used in my economics classes when trying to emphasize the importance of thinking about “real” economic output more than just looking at the nominal or dollar totals and to demonstrate why education is a necessary government service.  I called it my “Bedpan Theory” which essentially states that you can have a bunch of money at the end of your life, but you’re going to be pretty miserable if those emptying your bedpan are untrained, uneducated and resentful of their poor circumstances in life.  Translated, though I doubt the Limited Thinkers at Oklahoma’s Stink Tanks will ever understand, we all benefit from living in a community where our fellow residents are educated and prosperous so we all, not just parents, should invest generously in the education of our community’s children. 

We have the Brown Boys, Dan and David, (along with many others including the Daily Oklahoman) to thank for this Plan B dump on our state.  I have written before about House Bill 1017, Oklahoma’s landmark education reform legislation and the lasting legacy of Governor Henry Bellmon a man of vision and courage, in Once Upon A Time and House Bill 1017 25th Anniversary .  As I pointed out in an Epilogue to the latter, after an attempt to repeal the legislation through State Question 639 failed in 1991, its backers filed State Question 640 which passed in 1992 and put in place the requirement that it takes a super majority of three-fourths for the legislature to increase taxes.  A vocal leader of the efforts to pass both state questions was Dan Brown, then head of the Oklahoma Taxpayers Union.  The following year David Brown, who served until just last year as chairman of its board, is credited with leading the effort to establish the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs that has dutifully kept the anti-tax, anti-government, anti-common sense rhetoric front and center in our state ever since.      

House Bill 1017, and the general economic prosperity in our nation until the Great Recession of 2008, fostered improvements in Oklahoma public education including statewide expansion of early childhood education for four year olds.  But that progress was fully constipated when the “tax cuts increase revenues” silliness advocated by David Brown’s stink tank bore its own brown fruit leaving our state government with an obvious structural deficit into the foreseeable future.  Now, even though a clear majority of our legislators have come to understand that it takes real and current (not imaginary “supply side”) revenue to provide essential government services, Dan Brown’s super majority sphincter prevents the passage of any new revenue measures.

I don’t know if the Brown Boys are related by blood, but they are certainly related in their legacy of dumping barriers to progress on Oklahomans.  In the near future when you see a bedpan that needs emptying just think Brown; that won’t get it emptied but it will help you remember why it isn’t.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

Piling On

Inside Full Circle Bookstore, OKC.  ID’d by Steve Hunt

When I read the October 5, Tulsa World, Readers Forum piece by Curtis Shelton and David Autry of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, “State Budget Crisis?  What Budget Crisis?”, I was so disappointed that my hometown newspaper which had recently touted its new fact-checking mission would give space to the OCPA that I resolved I would not leave it unchallenged.  So I penned a letter to the editor, too long by a couple of hundred words, and emailed it in with much satisfaction because I not only pointed out shortcomings of Shelton and Autry’s drivel, but I also chided the World for printing it.   Back came a response that the editor liked my letter, but it was too long by about the number of words I wrote criticizing the World—go figure.

Actually the suggestion was not to drop my critique of the World, but to submit it separately from my letter responding to the OCPA’s piece; I did as suggested, and my eloquent epistle appeared Sunday, October 15.  But before I could bask in the glory of my erudite argument and dazzling data, another letter to the editor appeared October 12, penned by T. E. Connor and titled “More pie in the sky from political hacks”.  Mr. Connor chides them for claiming our state’s impending $500 million budget hole can be plugged by simply zeroing out the “pet projects” of “special interests” without providing any specifics.

I think Mr. Connor is spot on with his criticism.  You see the OCPA has been offering a series of “Cost Avoidance” recommendations throughout the special session and #8, by the OCPA’s Trent England, is “Make Low Priority Agencies Non-Appropriated”.  He lists three, probably after checking the list with his Board of Directors.  They are the J. M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, $288,000 appropriated, the Oklahoma Spaceport authority, I think $321,000 appropriated, and the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, $3,608,000 (my numbers are best I can discern from the 2016 state financial report and budget).  In other words, Mr. England’s big idea to get to $500 million is saving $600,000 and killing off Big Bird in Oklahoma.

Three days later I got to bask in the glory of my letter which demonstrated, as I have many times in this Blog (see Same Song, Umpteenth Verse for a recent example) that the OCPA aggregates school revenues by double counting some and including fund balances as a way that grossly exaggerates the funding truly available to budget.  They also base their recommendations for funding teacher pay raises on the belief (or lie if they know better) that all school revenues can be used for any purpose.  I argued that if they so distort facts with respect to funding our schools, then they likely are employing similar misinformation about the state budget as a whole.  I loved it.

Then a mere three days after that, being today, the World’s new partnership with Politifact bore fruit with an almost full page fact-check of the Shelton/Autry/OCPA allegation that “state government spending is at an all-time high. The state is on track to spend more in this fiscal year — more than $17.9 billion — than at any time in state history.”  Jon Greenberg of Politifact explained how it is deceptive to talk about state spending levels over time without considering the impacts of increasing population and inflation, as most who work with such data would readily do.  He then concluded that the OCPA allegation is “Mostly False”. 

The fellows at the OCPA had scored a little win by getting the World to devote a quarter page to their drivel on October 5, something they could add to their monthly board productivity report, but then got slammed with a full page, in color, “Mostly False”.  Kind of makes this World subscriber proud and willing to keep paying for the print edition.  Actually the fellows got let off pretty easy by Politifact.  What is worse, in my opinion, than not considering inflation or population growth, is not discerning among the various components of the state budget that are not fungible, i.e. money that comes from the federal government for Medicaid program reimbursement cannot be used to hire more corrections workers.  As I have repeatedly explained before (see The Education of Little Thinker ) when the OCPA fellows have whined about all the money going to public schools in Oklahoma, the fact that more kids are eating and buying school meals at higher prices, that student activities like athletics and choirs are collecting more gate receipts and cookies sales, and that local communities are voting bonds to build and renovate their children’s school facilities, does not mean those increasing revenues can be used for teacher pay raises.

Here’s how Governor Fallin’s FY 2016 budget book states it:  “As a result, revenues available for discretionary spending are declining in years when total revenues are growing.  In these scenarios, many government functions receive fewer appropriated, or discretionary, dollars through the General Revenue Fund while other functions receive more apportioned, or mandatory, dollars.”   For many reasons, some within the Legislature’s control but many not, all state revenues are not fungible or available to be spent on any state function.  The OCPA’s passion for simply showing total revenues or total expenditures is of no help to those legislators who are trying to balance the state’s budget.  Our state’s challenges are more nuanced than that and you would think a think tank could think clearly about it.  Either clear thinking about policy is not their real mission or they simply are not capable.  Their statement is not only “mostly false” it is also mostly deceptive and/or irrelevant.

As always lunch is on me to the first to ID the photo location.

A Tribute to Vo and Katy

Statue of Luther in the Wittenberg Market plaza in front of the town hall just off Collegienstrasse about halfway from the Castle/All Saints Church of 95 Theses fame to the Lutherhaus where they lived; ID’d by my nephew Vince Taylor.

I’m taking a little break from critiquing the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs this time though I do have a brief comment about a recent post Teacher Hiring Devastated by Emergency “Common Sense Shortage” on their site by documented (see In A Flash , Crybabies and Where to Begin? ) Limited Thinker Greg Forster.  He questions whether teacher certification requirements are really beneficial and believes that eliminating them would end Oklahoma’s teacher shortage.  I commented on my experience as a beginning classroom teacher without the benefit of any focused preparation in my post (Charlie’s Wake ) Charlie’s Wake so have some first-hand experience with what he proposes.  I’ll only say I appreciate that Mr. Forster has stopped referring to Oklahoma’s teachers and administrators as “the Blob” by toning it down to “education establishment” and “old guard”.

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday and she would be 92 if still with us.  Her given name was Veaujilla and her siblings were Xerlan, Gretzlyn, Arlon, Durian and Thamon; my grandfather Leslie Hazen was an interesting man.  My mother went by Vo.  Where we lived in the early 60’s the wives in each house next door and across the street were named Flo, Jo and Zo.  The neighborhood joke was that the husbands just had to yell “O” and some wife would answer.

I’ve written previously about my mother and father in They Made It Look Easy .  She was an amazing woman of intelligence, compassion and strength.  Anyone she interacted with was immediately drawn to her warm, caring personality.  After my brother and I left home she entered nursing school and had a successful career as an RN in Tulsa till her retirement to care for her father and step-mother.  Had she been born in 1955 instead of 1925 she would have been an amazing physician.

Any Watts family members still reading at this point are wondering if the second half of my tribute is to either of two women named Katy who are married to my nephews, one in Texas and the other in Florida.  Both, like my mother, are women of intelligence, compassion and strength and certainly worthy of tribute (Watts men always marry our betters), but I’m writing about neither.  The Katy who has been on my mind in recent weeks is Katharina Von Bora who was the wife of Martin Luther.

My mother’s mother died when my mother was five years old.  I had always understood that this grandmother I never knew was the daughter of two German immigrants and thought it would be interesting to learn where they immigrated from and visit those parts of Germany.  We had made a similar trip to England concerning Linda’s English grandmother and it was an interesting and fun experience.

My efforts in genealogy ran into a dead end when I learned that, while my grandmother’s mother was born in Germany and immigrated as a child, her father was the son of an English father and Irish mother; also I couldn’t find any specific immigration records.   Undaunted we decided we would still go to Germany but instead of chasing my roots, this October 31 being the 500th anniversary of the publication of his 95 Theses, we’d go see Martin Luther sites instead.

Here is Katharina Von Bora’s statue in Wittenberg where she and Martin Luther lived.

She was born in 1499 to noble but impoverished parents who sent her away to a nunnery at age 5.  At age 9 she moved to the Cistercian monastery in Nimbschen, near Grimma, south of Leipzig where she eventually became a nun.  Here are the ruins of her monastery that we visited.  They are near a lovely hotel and restaurant, old and new buildings, in a fairly rural and quiet area.

In 1523, having learned about the reformation activities sparked by Martin Luther in Wittenberg in 1517, she and eight other nuns escaped their Catholic dominated region in the wagon of a fish monger and settled in Wittenberg.  Her companions ranged in age from their teens to fifty something and one by one Martin Luther and other Wittenberg leaders found suitable arrangements/marriages for their well-being.  Eventually Katharine was the last without a permanent situation, having rejected more than one proposal.

She told a friend of Luther’s that she would marry Luther.  Having struggled with what impact his marriage might have on the reformation movement, Luther decided that marrying Katharine Von Bora would “…please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.”  So they married in 1525.  Over the next ten years she bore six children, four who survived childhood.  She and Martin lived in their Wittenberg house that was previously an Augustinian dormitory which she ran and managed as a rooming house for both paying and non-paying students, friends and family.  She brewed and sold beer (the water was not safe to drink), maintained vegetable gardens and livestock outside the town and eventually managed a farm in another area.

Of course Martin Luther was teaching, writing, traveling and generally being famous all the years of their marriage until his death in 1546.  She lived seven more years to age 53, seeing their four children into adulthood.  She was literate but left few writings; what is known about her life in Wittenberg is largely through the extensive writings left by Luther and others, especially the men who attended his nightly “table talks” over dinner at the Luther house.  They were devoted to each other and Luther defied both law and tradition when he named her guardian of their children and beneficiary of his estate in his last will and testament, though after his death the court still required a man be appointed to help her.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.

The Education of Little Thinker

In my last post Same Song, Umpteenth Verse  I took Dave Bond and Curtis Shelton of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs to task for their ill-informed and misleading September 19 post “Oklahoma Public School Revenues Are Higher Than Ever”.  Here is the graph they used

I tied in to their numbers and showed how they were double counting and using non-recurring funds to fabricate a tale of growing education revenue in our state.  There was more I could have said, as I have in many past posts ( Double, Double, Toil and Trouble  and Paradox of Thrift are two of several) , about their failure to comprehend even the most basic school district finance principles, but I stopped at those two and declared Mr. Shelton a Limited Thinker for the first time (Mr. Bond is a repeat offender,  see Done Waiting for Mr. Bond ).  So when I first read Mr. Shelton’s latest post “AP Reports States’ Funds ‘Slashed’, ‘Depleted’”, and saw this graph

I sadly thought here is a young “research fellow” going down the same path as the other Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs limited thinkers being unable to think clearly or do real research.  But then I noticed the graph has changed.  The total numbers for each year are now less and they appear clearly to be lower by the amount of the “double-counting” of “Non-Revenue Receipts” that are included in the first graph, which was the most obvious half of my prior critique.  So there is hope for this new thinker and I want to continue his education.

Here’s what he says in the earlier post after trying to convince us that Oklahoma schools are awash in funding:

“Tragically, too much of this increased funding hasn’t made it to the classroom where it could most directly benefit students.”  Then he pleas for giving school districts flexibility to re-allocate funding by saying, “For instance, lawmakers should send to a vote of the people a resolution allowing a larger percentage of local ad valorem dollars to be utilized for teacher salaries and other classroom expenses, rather than for buildings and technology upgrades only.” 

In the more recent post he echoes the same thought, “Murphy (the Associated Press writer) never explains why, with over $2 billion increased funding in a decade and with “new buildings and huge football stadiums,” school districts fail to prioritize teachers.”  Again his thinking (or the editorial direction he was given) has led him to the conclusion there is plenty of money, some of it just needs to be re-directed from its current uses to higher priority expenditures like teacher salaries.

Here’s my new chart to help him think about that with facts at hand.

I show FY2009 and FY2016 to keep it simple and for the reasons I stated in my last post, i.e. the state was still making a reasonable effort through 2009; our policy-caused woes have occurred since then.  I do not include “Cash Forward” or fund balances for reasons I’ve repeatedly written about ( see Where to Begin? and Paradox of Thrift ) , primarily you don’t rely on one-time money to cover recurring expenses and these funds are almost entirely already committed and even encumbered.  The Total New Revenues shown are the same as in my earlier chart, taken directly from the same Oklahoma State Department of Education data Mr. Shelton shows, however they are broken down by “fund” instead of “source”.   This makes it easier to explain what the revenue is used for.  Let’s work from the bottom up.

All Other is mostly the OKC area MAPS funding and statewide private gifts to school districts.  (The 2009 amount includes $1.333 million to make the overall total equal the state’s numbers due to an error on their end that I can’t explain.)  Local boards already have control over these funds subject to the giver’s requirements.

Student Activities is controlled by Title 70 Okla. Statutes Sect. 5-129 and is essentially where athletics admissions, school fundraisers, and other student activity related funding is deposited and must be expended for school activity purposes.  This is not a source for teacher raises.

Sinking/Bond Project funds are controlled by Article 10, Section 26 of the Oklahoma Constitution as more fully spelled out in Title 70 Okla. Statutes Sect. 1-119 and 15-101 through 15-106.1.  These funds cannot be used for teacher salaries.  We will come back to this shortly.

Child Nutrition funds are primarily federal money for school breakfasts and lunches, money paid by parents and students for student meals, and a little bit of state matching funds to secure the federal money.  These expenditures are controlled by Title 70, Sect. 3-119 and federal law.  None of this money can be used for teacher salaries.

Building funds are derived from a 5 mill levy established by our state’s Constitution at Article 10, Sect. 10, specifically for the purpose of erecting and maintaining school buildings.  These funds also cannot be used for teacher salaries, BUT can be used to maintain and operate school buildings including utilities and custodial costs.  In effect, based on local discretion, these funds are essentially operational and can free up other unrestricted operational funds to be used for teacher salaries.

Lastly, I have combined the General and Co-op funds together since the latter is essentially operational funds combined by two or more school districts to carry out a joint educational program.  These funds can be, and are mostly, used to compensate instructional and other staff needed to operate our school programs.

Note the last three lines of my table; these show per student revenue for 2009 and 2016, first for all New Revenue which includes much that cannot be legally used for teacher pay, then for the General/Co-op funds only, and lastly adding in the Building funds which I pointed out are operational, even though not available for teacher pay.  Despite the silly math of the OCPA the reality is clear—Oklahoma school districts have less funding per student ($260 per student less in their general funds and $214 per student less including their building funds) available now to fund classroom instruction than eight years ago and we haven’t even considered that insurance, utility and fuel costs have all steadily risen and take a larger share of those operational dollars now than in 2009.

So what is our little thinker thinking when he decries the money spent on buildings, technology and football stadiums?  Those are all choices made by local communities, paid for with local property taxes out of district Sinking funds, to retire bonded indebtedness used pursuant to our state Constitution.  Apparently, if he understands state law which is a big IF, he is advocating allowing local communities to sell bonds, i.e. incur debt, to give teacher pay raises.  That’s a pretty shocking recommendation coming from a “conservative” think tank.  You see all the operational millage that school districts receive is provided for in Article 10, Sections 9 and 10, of our state constitution, namely 35 mills for the general fund of each school district based on its own valuation, another 4 mills raised county-wide and distributed by student population (was originally the funding for Oklahoma’s separate schools under segregation), and the 5 mills for the building fund.  All of this is already available, the building fund by substitution, for teacher pay as I’ve discussed above.  The only other millage allowed is for retiring bond debt.  The legislature can do no more without an amendment to our Constitution to increase property taxes.

So I don’t get it and I don’t think little thinker Shelton does either.  But there is hope that he will actually read, think and do research in the future before simply regurgitating the misinformation he is being paid to promulgate.  What is even more amazing is that he and others at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs are given space in the Tulsa World, a reputable news organization that recently committed to a relationship with Politifact to enhance its fact-checking capacity in our state.  If the World is interested in facts it will give no space to OCPA Limited Thinkers until they learn how to read, think and research.

As always lunch is on me to the first to ID the location of the above photo showing me as king of thinkers—and good luck with that.

 

 

Same Song, Umpteenth Verse

  Centennial Carousel, Elk City, OK  ID’d by Senator Stephanie Bice

Tomorrow the Oklahoma Legislature begins a special session to address the budget shortfall for FY 2018 and to consider funding for a teacher pay increase.  Having checked the website of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs some days earlier and seeing nothing particularly related to the special session other than their regurgitation of non-specific “government bad, private good” drivel that they are paid to produce, I anticipated I would need to reprise my “The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly” post from just before the 2017 regular session when there was also talk of a teacher pay increase (which didn’t happen).  It’s pretty interesting how even our legislature, which is somewhat fiscally accountable, can tell there is no funding for teacher pay raises, but the Limited Thinkers at the OCPA continue to assure us that there is–by just distorting facts and making stuff up, though sometimes I wonder if the poor fellows there even know that’s what they are doing. 

The latest example, and I assume their attempt to “inform” the legislature before the special session convenes, is a September 19, 2017 post by fellows Curtis Shelton and Dave Bond.  I don’t think I’ve commented on Mr. Shelton’s work before but I’ve documented Mr. Bond as a Limited Thinker more than once (Something Special, Waiting for Dave Bond and Done Waiting for Mr. Bond) so it was no surprise that their attempt at providing “research” falls short of any standard of credibility.   To understand why, we must first examine their numbers.  Below I’ve copied their data from the row labeled “State Sources” to the row labeled “Per Pupil Revenue” for three fiscal years, 2006, 2009 and 2016.  Then below the horizontal line, taken from the same Oklahoma State Department of Education source, pdfs, I show “New Revenue”, a re-calculated “Per Pupil New Revenue”, “Bond Sales” and a calculated “Net Ad Valorem” for each of those three years.  

Here’s why I selected those three years.  I picked 2006 and 2016 because that’s the years they use as the start and the end; they are also the earliest and most recent now showing on the SDE website.  Then I picked 2009 because, having managed an Oklahoma school district’s finances during that roller coaster decade, I know that was the last year that school districts saw any appreciable increase in state appropriated funding over the prior year.  It also marked the beginning of the Great Recession (caused in no small part by the kind of anti-regulatory policies urged by the OCPA) which unfortunately coincided in the following years with the full fiscal impact of the silly “cutting taxes increases revenue” state fiscal policies urged by the OCPA.  Here is the actual data:  Revenue 2006Revenue 2009 and Revenue 2016

By choosing 2006 as the start they are able to say revenues have grown 41% over that 10-year period; however, over half, 23% of that “growth”, took place in just the first three years and only 18% in the most recent 7 years.  Using their data, the per pupil growth rates for the same two segments are 21% and 8%, respectively, making up their touted number of 29%.  It’s easy to cherry pick start and stop dates to prove a point if you don’t care about presenting real facts and context.  Even using their numbers, it is clear revenue growth has not been robust for Oklahoma schools since 2009.

Now let’s look below the line, where we find the real numbers.  Here is the bottom half of the last page of the 2016 SDE Revenue Report.  Notice nowhere do you find their “Total Revenue” amount of $8,812,222,076.52.  That’s simply because only a limited thinker would see that as a useful number.  The useful number that you do see is “New Revenue Received From School Year 2016” which is the $6,012,945,268 that I have entered in that row below the line, along with the New Revenue numbers for 2006 and 2009.

 

Bond and Shelton, showing that they can actually add together numbers they don’t understand, add on to the New Revenue amounts for each year the entries for “Balance Sheet Accounts”, being $2,048,140,826.61 for 2016, and for “Non-Revenue Receipts”, being $751,135,986.24 for 2016.  Because these two line totals have increased more rapidly over the years included than the ones that make up “New Revenue” then their inclusion simply distorts the facts in a way that fits the OCPA’s preconceived conclusion—that Oklahoma school districts have plenty of money for teacher pay raises or whatever.

I have written extensively in previous posts about each of these fallacious efforts to overstate school district revenues.  The easier to dispose of ( Double, Double, Toil and Trouble ) are the “Non-Revenue Receipts”—duh, aren’t Bond and Shelton at least curious why OSDE labels them as “non” revenue?  This is revenue that is recorded for tracking, but adding it to total revenues would overstate, or “double count”, the financial resources that are available.  The largest category is “Bond Sales” at $652 million that year most of which was probably raised to build and repair buildings; but you simply do not count that revenue AND the property tax revenue used to pay off the bonds—that is double counting.  Stated so perhaps Bond and Shelton can understand, if you borrow $10,000 to buy a car and then pay back the loan using $10,000 from your wages over the next year, your “income” was not $20,000, it was just $10,000 and you used it all to pay for the car.  The “New Revenue” used to pay back the “Bond Sales” non-revenue is included local ad valorem revenue, specifically property taxes collected into school districts’ sinking funds.  If you look below the line at “Bond Sales” and “Net Ad Valorem” (their “Total Ad Valorem” less my “Bond Sales”), it crudely shows bond sales grew 89% over that 10-year period while other ad valorem grew just over 60%.  Real research would probably reveal that more school districts turned to bond sales as a way to balance their general operating budgets for such things as text books, technology and student uniforms.  That’s not a very efficient way to pay for those items, but when other sources have dried up that’s how they are coping.

As I’ve written before there are also reasons why it is fallacious to view “Balance Sheet Accounts”, called “Cash Forward” by Bond and Shelton, in the same way as “New Revenue” ( Where to Begin? and Paradox of Thrift ).  First, and most obvious, is that it is one-time money.  So using it for something like recurring teacher salary increases would create an immediate revenue shortfall the following year.  Second, most of the “Balance Sheet Accounts” funding is already earmarked for such uses as retiring bond debt, child nutrition services, early fiscal year payroll obligations in advance of ad valorem calendar year collections, etc.  And the almost yearly state revenue failures since 2010 have caused prudent school boards to increase their local “savings accounts” to assure their ability to make payroll and pay district operational expenses when state revenue promises are not kept.

What’s the bottom line?  Look at the calculation of “Per Pupil New Revenue” for 2009 and 2016, it went from $8,644.40 to $8,680.82, essentially no actual dollar increase over seven years, while at the same time utilities, employee health insurance, fuel for buses, etc. all were steadily rising in price.  That is the reality of what Oklahoma school districts have faced, not the preconceived fantasy of abundance concocted by limited thinkers Bond and Shelton.  And what about their parting shot “…this increased funding hasn’t made it to the classroom…”?  I don’t even have to click on the link to know they’re echoing the same song, umpteenth verse about the “Surge” in hiring non-teachers.  Just read my posts A Dirge for a Surge , Purging the Surge and Return of the Surge to see more of their limited thinking, and laziness, on display.

As always, lunch on me for the first to ID its location; and good luck with that.

 

 

 

Dangerous Lessons

Wartburg Castle, above Eisenach, Germany; ID’d by Brooks Williamson.

Linda and I survived our old person adventure in another country where the people were friendly, the scenery was nice to look at, the food was good and our walks were pleasant, just like we enjoy in our own city and state.  After a week of getting caught up with tasks, enjoyable and not, I took a peek at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs website to see if maybe they have improved while we were out of the country and found a September 1 post under “Educational Freedom” titled “Dangerous Distractions” by their President Jonathan Small.  Of course “dangerous” can make your mind go to “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”  But we’re talking the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs so my mind went to what silliness is documented Limited Thinker (Onward to the Past and The 64 Million Dollar Question ) Small up to this time.

Here is his argument in a nutshell:  Everyone knows the Oklahoma City Public Schools are terrible—just look at all the F grades they get from our state legislature.  But instead of working to make the schools better, the OKC school board is worrying about schools named for Confederate soldiers.  They need instead to figure out why, over the last 25 years, they’ve wastefully hired all those non-teachers who obviously don’t help kids learn.  And, almost forgot, just give the money to private schools and for-profit charters and the students will instantly be better educated.

Wow; that’s some deep thinking about what’s “dangerous” for the students in Oklahoma City.  About the F grades and the school choice arguments I don’t have any comment today except to refer you to three other Oklahoma bloggers who have written extensively about these topics including how Oklahoma’s school grade cards are more about zip codes and income than about school effectiveness:  okeducationtruths.wordpress.com   viewfromtheedge.net and fourthgenerationteacher.blogspot.com

I will comment on the Confederate soldier names for schools.  I agree with Small that naming schools is not as important as assuring that all our children have access to a quality and safe education.  However, school boards are called on to set policy for a wide range of matters that may seem peripheral to the core function of education, like competitive athletics, candy sale fundraisers, facilities use agreements, dress codes, school building designs, etc., and naming schools is one of them.  I attended Celia Clinton Elementary, named as best I recall for the daughter of the man who provided the land on which the school was built, Eli Whitney Junior High, named for the cotton gin inventor, and Nathan Hale High School, named for the Revolutionary War patriot (of his new nation, not his state) who courageously gave his life for his country.  I remember the names but those are just the places where my education took place and if the Tulsa School Board, in its wisdom, were to re-name any or all of them I would not object.  Both Nathan Hale and Eli Whitney will long be remembered as part of our nation’s history regardless of whether these or any other buildings are named for them; and the family and friends who may remember Celia Clinton do so because of their relationships with her, not the building named for her.

Many school names have disappeared and changed in Tulsa, usually as with Lincoln, Pershing, Barnard, Irving, Horace Mann, etc. when the buildings are destroyed or no longer used as schools.  Others, like the former Wilson (where I taught in the early 70s) and Nimitz Junior High buildings, are renamed for new uses, now Mayo and Eisenhower Elementary schools, respectively.  Did those names disappearing or changing constitute “dangerous distractions”?  I think not.  And also I am among the many who understand that naming public buildings is not in and of itself “history”, nor does changing a building’s name change “history”.  Rather naming public buildings should be about who we, through our elected representatives such as the OKC school board, choose to honor and hold up to students and the public as examples of citizenship.   An interesting and inspiring choice in the Tulsa system is Memorial High School which, if my memory is correct, is named in honor of our service men and women collectively who have given their lives for our nation (not our state).

Yes, in grade school I read the biography of Robert E. Lee and understand that he was a man of courage and ability.  I have also since read that he was asked to serve as a military officer for the United States of American in defense of an armed rebellion against our nation and he declined, instead choosing to join that armed rebellion which cost hundreds of thousands** their lives.  I was born in Oklahoma, have lived here over sixty of my seventy years, and will most likely die here, but I have never considered myself an Oklahoman first above being a citizen of our great nation.  No, I do not think we should honor those who took up arms against the country they had once taken an oath to serve.  Changing a school name does not alter history; it is the relatively unimportant prerogative of each generation of school board members to do or not as they deem appropriate and doing so is not “dangerous”.

What is dangerous?  I did some quick and dirty searching on the word along with some Oklahoma state budget related topics and here’s what I found.

  1. This 2013 USA Today article “States with the most dangerous bridges” lists Oklahoma as the second worst, and the only state among the 10 worst that had more dangerous bridges then than two years previously. I wonder how Oklahoma fares today after four more years of failed budgets due to the fiscal policies urged by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  Now this is scary.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/06/29/states-most-dangerous-bridges/2456467/

  1. This from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety website in March of this year:

OHP Chief Rick Adams said, “The perilous security environment created by a 15 percent budget cut places citizens at increased risk, local law enforcement at risk and our troopers’ lives at risk. This is a gathering Public Safety Crisis that can only be fixed by adequate funding, and everyone will feel the impact. Further triaging of resources, further cuts in mileage and no manpower replacements – all at a time when 26 percent of the OHP is eligible for retirement – makes this evolving situation far more sinister than budget crises of the past.”

You can read the rest of it and then decide which is more “dangerous”, these cuts to Oklahoma Highway Patrol services and capacity or renaming some schools.

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/OKDPS/bulletins/18c0b67

  1. And this from Oklahoma News 4 story “Oklahoma Department of Corrections: prison overpopulation becoming dangerous”:

According to the DOC, there are 26,619 inmates being housed in state-run and private prisons or halfway houses; 32,564 being supervised on GPS monitors, community supervision or by probation and parole officers; and 1,829 in county jail backup.  Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh said the numbers are a sobering reminder of how overpopulated and dangerous the state’s prison system continues to become.  “We are beyond the tipping point,” Allbaugh said. “The staff and the public are at risk every day when we operate at this capacity. We are critically understaffed in facilities that weren’t built to house inmates. Some of these places are over a century old, causing the agency to hemorrhage money. Statewide, our prisons are in need of more than $2 billion in infrastructure repairs.  We have individuals working in the agency who qualify for food stamps and an astronomical turnover rate close to 40 percent, which is leading to money spent on perpetual officer academies and training for new employees,” he continued. “The inefficient practices inundating the agency for decades must end.”

http://kfor.com/2016/12/16/oklahoma-department-of-corrections-prison-overpopulation-becoming-dangerous/

Again Small demonstrates that he is a Limited Thinker by focusing on the inconsequential, school boards changing school names, as being dangerous, when his “Think Tank” has prescribed the very “tax cuts increase revenues” fiscal policy that has left our state unable to take care of basic state services, like having safe bridges, adequate state law enforcement, and prisons that increase our safety instead of putting corrections officers and the public at risk, thereby making our state truly a more dangerous place to live.  If the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs were truly interested in helping our public policy discourse then they would do real research instead of echoing the same old stories like this statement in his post:

From the 1992-1993 school year to the 2013-2014 school year, OKCPS saw student increases of just 10 percent and teacher staff increases of just 11 percent, according to the SDE. That same time period saw non-teacher staff increases of 24 percent, or approximately 545 additional non-teachers.

As I’ve pointed out in Purging the Surge , A Dirge for a Surge and Return of the Surge , if the OCPA is truly concerned about this data then do the hard work and let’s see how many of those 545 are teacher assistants due to the expansion of early childhood education, how many are cafeteria workers due to the expansion of the school breakfast and lunch programs, and how many are mandated because, duh, Oklahoma City’s student population has changed with more special education students, more students for whom English is not their primary language and more students living in poverty.  Each of these categories mandates more staffing than was the case in 1992.  But no, the OCPA isn’t interested in discerning the truth, they are only interested in pushing the narrative dictated by their funders—government bad, private always better.

As always lunch on me to the first to ID where the photo was taken, a place far away where long ago a real thinker found refuge from real danger.  My friend Brooks Williamson Id’d the photo; thinking of school names I have to pay tribute to his grandfather T. D. Williamson who was a loyal supporter of his beloved Central High School in Tulsa and his support continued even when the school board did the “unthinkable” and moved it outside of downtown Tulsa and out of its wonderful building that is headquarters now for AEP/PSO.  Loyalty to schools and education is not about names or buildings, it’s about caring for next generation and the future.

**I originally posted “millions” without fact checking.  One reputable source says about 600,000 deaths.  Unlike the OCPA I will correct my errors when found.