As this Tulsa World article, “Question of revenue for teacher raises looms over lawmakers”, shows our legislature seems to have every good intention of funding a teacher pay raise this session—except they haven’t a clue how to pay for it. It’s got to come as a shock to most of them that when you spend years drinking the Kool Aid dogma, and perversion of true supply-side economics, that every tax cut will generate more revenue, our state will eventually run out of revenue to fund even its most basic services. So where is a good think tank when you need them; surely the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is ready with the answer.
Painful as it is I checked their site and found a February 1 post, “Non-Teaching Staff Surge Prevented Oklahoma Teacher Pay Raises”, from Benjamin Scafidi who, for this post, is the Ugly Step-Thinker. I’ve never met Mr. Scafidi, have no idea where his appearance would fit on some immature 1 to 10 scale, and besides, as you can see from my legs in the photo above, I’m firmly opposed to judging a person based on his physical appearance. My use of “Ugly” goes back to my November 19, 2016 post The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly, where I showed that each of the OCPA’s recent suggestions for funding a teacher pay raise in Oklahoma are bereft of substance. The “Glib” was the assertion by OCPA “thinker” Dave Bond that recent legislation doing something with teacher health insurance had freed up $100 million for raises; he just made it up. The “Bad” was the assertion by OCPA “thinker” Steve Anderson that school districts could simply spend all their available cash for raises; he just demonstrated his ignorance of school district financial accounting and cash flow.
I refer to Mr. Scafidi as a “step-thinker” because he is not with the OCPA, but rather one of their outside contributors. I guess the OCPA thinkers just can’t do the state finance math to see how their fiscal policy recommendations over the last decade have succeeded in almost bankrupting our state government so they have to call in outside help. I refer to him as “Ugly” because his proposal for funding a teacher pay raise is to offset the cost by laying off non-teaching staff, and that would not be pretty. Even though his most recent post drops the silly implication that the relative surge in non-teacher employees over the last several decades is mostly an increase in administrators, his numbers still don’t fully jive with the data I’ve found so methinks he is still playing loose with the statistics.
I don’t dismiss his work entirely. We may quibble about the stats around the edges but his central point that non-teacher staffing has grown faster than teacher staffing is probably accurate. School administrators, and even lawmakers, certainly should look at their school districts’ data and analyze whether the staffing patterns are necessary and appropriate; most already do. It might benefit Mr. Scafidi to talk to them. Regardless, I doubt this step-thinker proposal will get legs this session because it is pretty ugly. He projects $255 million is potentially available for a teacher pay raise, but he doesn’t spell out that means laying off over 6,000 non-teacher school employees statewide.
He also throws out a new (from him) option of giving $7,000 vouchers to 36,000 students. He says this will lower class sizes but doesn’t say how and is not clear if this is somehow related to giving teachers a pay raise. Any discussion about vouchers has got to begin with how the state is going to pay for the inevitable increase in student enrollment (counting both voucher and traditionally enrolled together) that will result. In my July 5, 2016 post This Is Too Much Fun I show why I think the number of Oklahoma students in private and home schools is approximately 44,000 to 45,000, or about 6.5% of the total school aged population. That number and percentage represent a pipeline of students who are educated outside the public school system and the state budget for education. Maybe not all the first year, but eventually any voucher system is going to capture a sizable share of that pipeline and every payment will be an additional expense to the state.
That is not to say the students and their families aren’t entitled to an education at public expense—they most certainly are and it is already available to them. But to suggest that implementing a voucher system of any kind is somehow going to save the state money so that we can lower class size or increase teacher pay, is folly and defies the reality of a 40,000 student pipeline that will certainly take advantage, as they should, of the opportunity. A voucher proposal that does not include more revenue to pay for these additional students, coming in from the private/home school system, in the near future, is fiscally irresponsible.
As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the photo location, but I recommend you try one of my earlier posts instead—this one is of an obscure Lake Michigan lighthouse and selected only because it shows my ugly legs.