Takes One To Know One

Blue Hole, Santa Rosa, New Mexico.  ID’d by Shane Matson

Actually I don’t believe that (“takes one to know one”), at least with respect to discerning the facts about matters of public policy, but given that one of the authors of the Tulsa World Readers Forum piece in today’s Sunday edition is Frank Keating, the former governor who famously referred to Oklahoma teachers as “slugs”, it’s hard to resist using playground language.  Frank and two other board members at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs lent their names to the writing that was most likely penned by one of the fellows at the OCPA.  Its arguments were regurgitations of the same faulty policy proposals I’ve been critiquing for the last year and a half in this blog, namely:

1.  Presenting teacher pay proposals that are either demonstrably stupid or politically impossible, see The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly  ;

2.  Distorting the amount of revenue available for discretionary pay raises either intentionally or out of willful misunderstanding of school law and finance, see Where to Begin?  , Unbelievable!  and A Rise By Any Other Name ;  

3.  Defending the cockamamie silliness, namely State Question 640, that has turned our legislature into a joke by requiring a 75% super majority to raise revenue for state services, Brown Boys Dump Plan B on Oklahoma  ; and

4.  Advocating a massive reduction in support staff at our schools without considering the legislative mandates that require their services or that the dedicated funding that supports their jobs cannot be used for teacher pay raises, A Dirge for a Surge  ,  Purging the Surge and Return of the Surge.

I’ll get to a couple of other jewels in future posts.  You can read “Thinking differently about Oklahoma public school spending” if you want.

So, encouraged on by my friend and veteran Letter to the Editor writer Carlton (Looking for Mr. James), I sent this letter off to The World: 

The Sunday Readers Forum rant by Frank Keating and others complaining that a recent article about Oklahoma’s state budget crisis in the Economist was “full of distortions and…demonstrably outright falsehoods” reminds me of the playground taunt “takes one to know one”.  Keating falsely asserts that in 2016 Oklahoma schools received $9.2 billion in revenue when the correct, undistorted, number is $6.012 billion according to the data published on the OSDE website.  He also peddles the research by Benjamin Scafidi who advocates funding teacher pay raises by laying off teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers, based, apparently, on the premise that schools nationwide were properly staffed in 1992.  Keating appears oblivious to the policy decisions behind the “65-year binge in non-teaching staff hiring” such as the legislative mandates to provide special education services (teacher assistants and bus drivers), early childhood education (more teacher assistants) and school breakfast programs (cafeteria workers), to name those that readily come to mind.  Based on these and other distortions and falsehoods routinely promulgated by the fellows at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs who wrote Frank’s rant, readers should be skeptical of the rest of it as well.

As I mention above I’ve written many posts on Scafidi’s work so I won’t repeat my critique here.  I’ve also written several, some linked above, about the many times the Limited Thinkers at our state’s Stink Tanks have distorted the amount of revenue available to schools in Oklahoma, but let’s do it yet again.  Here’s what they say:

Revenue shortfalls are not the cause of Oklahoma’s education troubles. In fact, through fiscal year 2016, Oklahoma public schools received more than $9.2 billion in revenue, a near record high. Since 2006, inflation-adjusted public school revenues have risen by more than $1.6 billion, or 21 percent.

The first sentence is opinion which is to be supported by the “facts” that follow.  All I’ll say now about the third sentence is that calculating a percentage increase is all about the base year where you begin.  They pick FY2006 which preceded three straight years (Brad Henry was governor) of solid revenue growth.  Our funding woes began at the end of FY2009 with the Great Recession which is the base year any fair measure of how our state has recovered since would use.  If I had their data the “21%” would melt away.

The data I do have is from the Oklahoma State Department of Education website showing this for all school districts’ statewide revenue for FY2016, the year they use and the most recent available on the site:

Their revenue number is $9.2 billion.  You can’t get there from here.  My number is $6.012 billion which is clearly shown as all “new revenue” received by schools in FY 2016.  You can make a falsely higher number by adding in the fund balances in the 6000 sources, but for many reasons that is not a wise or helpful source for recurring expenditures like teacher pay raises; still you only get to $8.061 billion, even with that distortion.  The last category, clearly labeled “non-revenue receipts”, has often been added in by the limited thinkers at the OCPA to exaggerate the amount of funding available, but even adding in that $750 million leaves you several hundred million shy of their $9.2 billion.  So I’m stumped, but not surprised.  As I’ve shown before, my faves being limited thinkers Bond (Done Waiting for Mr. Bond) and Anderson ( You’re Not in Kansas Anymore  ) these fellows just make stuff up if it suits their fancy.

So once again, Tulsa World, you need to Fact Check your contributors.

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

A Very Frank Letter

Ruth Ann Odom by Comment, Trent England by email and my high school buddy Gary Monteith by Facebook all ID’d the Petrified Forest in Arizona; this thinker is too limited to figure out who’s on first (I only know Watts on second) so will spend my Social Security COLA having lunch with friends.

After I published my last post, Let’s Be Frank About It , chiding the fellows at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs because their most high-profile board member, and former governor, Frank Keating had signed on to Step Up Oklahoma asking for tax increases to keep our state functioning, Frank himself penned a letter to the editor published in the Tulsa World on February 6; here it is:

I am a frustrated Oklahoman. We have suffered two revenue failures. We have done little to reduce the size of government and have done less to reform the bloat that we have. We want to give teachers a raise but we’ve given away the revenue base to the able-bodied on Medicaid, the wind industry and a cash-sucking public school and higher education bureaucracy that argues with straight faces that 500 school districts, scores of colleges and universities and off-campus campuses are spending our money prudently and educating our students well, despite the fact that our math, science and reading scores and graduation rates show us to be high on failure and low on achievement.

What to do?

It should come as an embarrassment to our political leaders but the business community has stepped up to say that enough is enough. They propose an assortment of reforms and taxes to avoid further state embarrassment. They are right to demand a bipartisan agreement. They have brought us to the table. We can no longer clear our throats and look out the window. Step Up Oklahoma should not be a package. It ought to be a process. Democrats want a $5,000 pay raise for teachers. Conservatives want Medicaid cuts, educational savings accounts, merger of career tech and community colleges, dramatic reduction of school districts and a cap on administrative overhead. To avoid shortfalls, the business leaders ask for sin taxes and restoration of a portion of the gross production tax. An increase of the income tax causes pain to working people so why not cover this piece with an end to the wind giveaways? Everything ought to be on the table. Nothing should be off the table. Both parties must give. It is summer 1787. Philadelphia. It is time to fix this place or it will fix us.

Wow!  That’s a lot to unpack, so just a few cold Saturday morning thoughts before I post another Thinker photo.

I didn’t realize Governor Mary Fallin is now a Democrat since she is asking for $289 million to fund $5,000 pay raises for teachers (would be the first increase in the minimum salary schedule in ten years).

Statewide the “cash-sucking public school…bureaucracy” is $165.6 million out of just over $6 billion recorded expenditures in FY 2016 which is 2.75%, and not enough for the teacher pay raise.  My “bureaucracy” measure is Function 2300, General Administration, that includes every dime spent on superintendents and other mandated general administrative services.  The total expenditures of $6 billion is Functions 1000 through 4700 only to avoid Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (double counting); see how easy it is, OCPA fellows.  I’m not saying 500 school districts are necessary, though I suspect the better arguments about consolidation are rooted in what’s best for the children served.  I also find it ironic that “conservatives” who whine about administrative costs are the same ones who grant Oklahoma’s “virtual” charter schools, i.e. no brick and mortar and no supervision of children while parents work, the same per student funding as is given to public charter schools that do operate buildings and supervise children—no bidding, competition or negotiation it seems is needed.

The “able-bodied on Medicaid” are a tiny fraction of that cost also.  Medicaid is mostly about nursing home costs, health care for the disabled, children and pregnant women.  See Making Medicaid Great by economist Robert Samuelson.  I’m all for eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in any government program, as long as the efforts to do so don’t cost more than we’re likely to save.  I suspect the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s ability to do eligibility audits has been greatly hampered by agency cut-backs in recent years (think Pogo).  Kind of like the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed driving our state highways knowing there are few troopers out there to inhibit my freedom to speed—at least until something happens and I need their help.

I wish it were “summer” but am glad it’s not “1787 Philadelphia”, see Who Wants to be a Billionaire?  (though 1972 Philadelphia was a pretty cool time and place to start our family at Penn’s hospital).  I doubt our founding fathers ever discussed imposing a 75% constitutional requirement to enact taxation; I wonder where Frank was in 1992 when our state’s “conservatives” set us on the road to failure.  See Brown Boys Dump Plan B on Oklahoma

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



Let’s Be Frank About It

White Sands Nat. Mon., N. M.; ID’d by Linda Ford Murphy

Since my last post this Thinker has been traveling and mastering QuickBooks so I have had little time to check up on the Limited Thinkers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and their echo tank the 1889 Institute.  However, I have new thinker photos to share and I saw the announcement this week that five former Oklahoma governors, including Frank Keating, are endorsing the Step Up Oklahoma initiative to address our state’s budget crisis and to fund teacher pay raises.  Here it is:

State’s five living former governors proclaim support for Step Up Oklahoma plan…Former Gov. Keating described Step Up Oklahoma’s proposal as a “lifeline.”

You see Frank Keating is on the Board of Directors of the OCPA which, for the almost two years I’ve been following their “research”, has tirelessly pushed the narrative that there is plenty of funding available for teacher pay raises and anything else essential for state government to do if we’d just cut out the waste, fraud and abuse and prioritize services using markets, freedom and liberty to guide us.  So it is quite funny, to this Thinker anyhow, to see the OCPA’s highest profile board member come out in favor of raising more revenue, yes increasing taxes, to right our state’s structural budget deficit and fund teacher pay raises.

Thus motivated I tore myself away from the intrigues of QuickBooks to check out the OCPA’s latest “Education Freedom” blog posts and was rewarded with The Truth About Education Spending, Relax School Regulations, Expand Parental Choice in Education, Give School Districts Flexibility to Raise Teacher Pay, and a couple of anti-OEA (the big, bad teachers union) posts thrown in for good measure.  They seem to be on a tear pushing their conclusions without, as usual, any real research, just a biased survey here, one bad apple school district there, and a regurgitation of stuff educators are required to do (see Accountability at a Glance from the State Department of Education website).  But all together it is more “sound and fury, signifying nothing” that will fund teacher pay raises or right our state’s budget.

A year ago, after the failure of the Boren led penny sales tax initiative (State Question 779), I wrote The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly  , summarizing my earlier critiques of how the OCPA has advocated funding teacher pay raises:  with a made up $100 million (the Glib), by imprudently using one-time fund balances to finance recurring salaries (the Bad), and by laying off teacher assistants, bus drivers, cooks and custodians in sufficient numbers to free up the money (the Ugly).  I’ve addressed their other feeble efforts in posts such as  Shooting Fish in a Tank  .

So now when the chips are down at the Capitol, why isn’t Frank advocating one or more of the “fellows” proposals?  More to the point why does Frank lend his name to the OCPA’s ongoing silliness so bereft of actual thought, research and understanding?

It must be a nice gig to be an OCPA fellow–just show up each day, hammer out a few hundred words of text, interspersed with a few buzz words like “markets”, “choice”, “freedom”, “entrepreneurial”, etc. and get paid for it.  But now when the highest profile member of your Board ain’t buying your drivel and instead is advocating tax increases, perhaps the limited thinkers are getting a little nervous.  At least they should be embarrassed because, Frankly, the real thinkers in our state aren’t catching what they’re pitching.

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