I watched the Tulsa Channel 6 program “Educate Oklahoma” on Monday and Tuesday this week. Scott Thompson is a loyal member of the Sandite community where I had the pleasure to work the last 12 years and he recognizes the value of public education in building our state’s economy and fostering strong communities. The program is good journalism.
Of course my mission here at OCPAThinker.org is to comment on what the other OCPA’s write and say, one of whom appears on the program. His name is Dave Bond and he is OCPA Impact which is some kind of branch or twig of OCPA. His comments on the program are to the effect that it looks like Oklahomans may well vote themselves a tax increase, State Question 779, and that is a shame because there is plenty of money in the state budget to give teachers a raise. He gives two or three examples but the one that caught my eye was “$100 million savings on employee health insurance going into effect October 1.”
Of course I had to chase that. I have scoured, or at least looked diligently, at both his OCPAImpact.com and the OCPAThink.org sites and can’t find anything that resembles that. I even went to the OMES/EGID site for state and education employees’ health insurance to see if there was some kind of announcement–nothing. So yesterday and today I have emailed and called, leaving voicemail, at the OCPA Impact contact information on that site and am waiting to hear back from Dave Bond.
In the mean time I saw this displayed on his site:
“FACT: As Oklahoma gradually reduced its personal income tax rate from 2005 through 2012, our state’s economy grew faster than the national economy and faster than many of our surrounding states. This, along with other positive economic factors, helped grow new jobs and increase individual opportunity in our state. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)”
To which I ask Mr. Bond why, since the rate was again reduced after 2012, is our state economy now in recession? Could it be related to the low price of oil—one of those “other economic factors”? I suspect if the U. S. Bureau of Economic Analysis looked at the relative impacts the state income tax rate in Oklahoma pales as a driving “economic factor” compared to changes in energy prices. So you will notice that when there is good economic news in Oklahoma the little twigs of OCPA will go on and on about how that is the result of income tax cuts; but when there is bad economic news, such as a failing state budget, then that is solely the result of low energy prices.
“FACT: Oklahoma’s total state government spending has reached record highs each of the past dozen years, even through two national recessions.” (If true, don’t have time to fact check, is only so because of Obama’s stimulus package, ARRA.)
“Total Oklahoma tax collections, coming out of the most recent recession, have also hit record highs in each of the last three fiscal years. Available funds, per-pupil, in our state’s public education system have reached record highs, as well. Oklahoma government does not have a revenue problem, but we do have a spending problem. Income tax reductions have not depleted funds for schools, roads, bridges, infrastructure or public safety. (Sources: Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services, Oklahoma Tax Commission, Office of the State Treasurer)”
I’ve only had time, and interest, to check part of this, namely “Available funds, per-pupil, in our state’s public education system have reached record highs, as well.” For reasons I addressed in two earlier blogs I’m not going to give Mr. Bond credit for carry forward balances, funds that may look like new and recurring revenue to him, but simply are not. Nor am I going to give him credit for bond funds, student activity funds, school lunch program revenues or gifts to school districts. These are all funds that are absolutely not available for teacher salaries and are never intended to pay for the operational costs of providing basic education services to our students. The revenues that are recurring and intended to support basic educational costs are included in the general, co-op and building funds.
FY 2008 was the last year the legislature provided additional funding for across the board teacher pay raises. FY 2015 is the most recent year for which apples to apples numbers are available on the SDE site for comparison, plus FY 2016 was no improvement. I compared the two and here’s what I found: the new revenue per ADA (per student) in those three funds increased from $7,495 in FY 2008 to $7,551 in FY 2015—whoop dee doo, maybe I have to say he is right which would hurt so bad.
But let’s look further, remembering he was arguing on the program that funds are available for teacher pay increases. Maybe that 56 bucks per kid should allow us to give teachers something, but also maybe we need to see if operational costs have gone up for any other reasons—utilities, motor fuels and insurance come to mind. Someday I’ll dig into those but suffice it to say that what the OCPA twigs present is just the “fact” that revenues are higher in current dollars than they were eight years ago so PRESTO there is money available; they make no mention of what other costs may have risen in the meantime.
Here’s an example that is easy to do. The revenue that is earmarked for education employee health benefits is a separate line item in the OCAS data which in turn is a very close measure of the actual cost to school districts. By subtracting that revenue from the totals for FY 2008 and FY 2015 we can then get per pupil comparisons of revenue available for everything but employee health insurance. The result is FY 2008 is $7,036 compared to FY 2015 of $6,961. Translated, net of employee health insurance costs school districts have $75 per pupil less new revenue now than in FY 2008 with which to operate schools. Tell me again how they are supposed to raise salaries, Mr. Bond.
Of course now I have played right into the leaves of the OCPA twigs by giving them an opening to blame all our woes on Obamacare (and thus ignoring the huge stimulus Oklahoma’s economy would have received by accepting the Medicaid dollars years ago). And they will wax eloquent about how much lower health costs would be without state provided/mandated health insurance by simply relying on the free market. Perhaps they will buy each teacher an EpiPen or, better yet, hire Martin Shkreli as a consultant to explain how market pricing works in the health care industry.
A final word. State new revenues only, per pupil, fell from $4,694 in FY 2008 to $4,424 in FY 2015. Public education remains primarily a state responsibility yet our state leaders are not doing their share by any calculation. Also lunch is still on me for identifying the location of the photo for this or any earlier post except June 20 and July 5 which have been ID’d.
Here’ my crude spreadsheet. ocpa impact fact check
The data comes from here: https://sdeweb01.sde.ok.gov/OCAS_Reporting/StateReports.aspx