Williams Park, Pawhuska, OK, ID’d by Shane Matson
In my last post, Takes One To Know One , I promised to address another argument or two made by former governor Keating and a couple of other board members of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in their Tulsa World rant titled, the online version, “Thinking differently about Oklahoma public school spending.” Later I noticed the same piece in the Sunday Readers Forum paper version was titled “Revenue exists to fund state’s schools adequately.” Interesting…whatever. I devoted most of my post to summarizing my past critiques (A Dirge for a Surge , Purging the Surge and Return of the Surge ) of Scafidi’s work on the “surge” in non-teacher school employees because I readily recalled those, and also I pointed out that their revenue number of $9.2 billion is simply false.
I briefly took them to task for claiming “Since 2006, inflation-adjusted public school revenues have risen by more than $1.6 billion, or 21 percent.” primarily for choosing 2006 as the base for comparison instead of 2009 when state revenues were at a peak. Turns out I addressed this same distortion by OCPA fellows Bond and Shelton (possibly the ghost writers for Keating) in my post Same Song, Umpteenth Verse . Here’s the data I used.
My data is taken directly from the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s online OCAS reports, (https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/OCAS_Reporting/StateReports.aspx) and is NOT inflation adjusted. Adjusting for inflation can be helpful in some comparisons, but here its purpose is hidden by their use of false data. You see there are several, three that I can readily name, inflation indices and none are created to meaningfully adjust for the mix of goods and services Oklahoma school districts purchase. So I choose to look past that silliness, especially noting that their final revenue number is $9.2 billion and has clearly been inflated, not deflated by an index. But remember these fellows often just make stuff up ( Done Waiting for Mr. Bond)
Here’s how a rational policy maker would approach this data. First, you don’t include “non-revenue” in your total available revenue which the OCPA fellows usually do and which shows their intent to distort, not inform. It’s labeled “non-revenue” for a reason, usually being inter-fund transfers, not new revenue, which I’ve explained before in earlier posts. Second you don’t include “cash forward” which is clearly one-time money that shouldn’t be used for recurring commitments (they want to use it for teacher raises), not to mention that it is an ending cash balance on June 30 that is almost fully encumbered the next day, July 1, mostly for salaries. Third, the correct number to use is “new revenue” as plainly labeled by SDE, which is $6.012 billion for 2016, meaning Keating and his fellows only got it wrong by $3 billion—an unbelievably gross error unless their real intent is to distort and make false statements.
So what about the 21% increase in school revenues? Nowhere to be found in my chart since we don’t know what “adjustment for inflation” they have made to get it. What you can readily see by looking at the last two columns is how cherry-picking a base year allows you to distort the data to support the narrative that our schools have plenty of money. The column second from the far right shows the percentage change from FY2006, their base year, to FY2016; the far right column shows the percentage change from FY2009, our last “normal” year before the Great Recession, to FY2016.
Using my preferred new revenue totals you see that in the ten years after FY2006 revenue grew by 27.3%, but only 7.9% in the last seven years, after FY2009, of that decade. That’s because the Great Recession wiped out the growth that had occurred the first three years. State and local school revenues across the country took a huge hit during the Great Recession but were able to avoid the worst effects because the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Obama’s stimulus package, made schools a priority. As our economy recovered, so did state and local school revenues, at least everywhere except Oklahoma—see this all too familiar ranking:
But the new revenue row doesn’t tell the whole story. Over this ten-year period student population has grown; the better measure of what has happened to school revenue is using per student amounts which are calculated in the last three rows of my chart. Notice that new revenue per student, being $8,681 in FY2016, has increased only 0.4% since FY2009, an increase fully wiped out by the modest inflation since then. It’s also telling that Keating’s per student number is $13,240, a distortion of such magnitude that it is also a falsehood.
More telling is the abject failure of Oklahoma’s “state” revenue, i.e. the amount provided by the legislature, per student, having fallen 9.3% since FY2009. That is the number that lands our state at the top (worst) of the other chart (my -9.3% is not as bad as the chart’s -26.9% because I include dedicated state revenues, not just appropriated). Were it not for the growth in local and county revenues for our schools they would be in even worse shape because, unfortunately, the state fiscal policy promoted by the OCPA, namely cutting taxes in the face of revenue failures, has been followed by our legislature.
Ostensibly they have done so in the name of “supply side” economics and blind obeisance to the Laffer Curve (which they don’t understand), but upon reflection I fear the OCPA fellows are not really Limited Thinkers after all. Their agenda of lowering state tax rates has been sold to the legislature as a way to improve our economy and increase state revenues. But I think they know better and that the real agenda all along has been to “starve the beast”, i.e. to slash government services. After all, who needs so many “slugs” teaching, driving and feeding our children.
As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location.