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: and

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.

  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.

  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.”

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.