Make Oklahoma Adequate Again

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.   

 

 

 

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.

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.