Outside UFO Museum in Roswell, NM.  ID’d by BJ Ryan.

I’ve been saving the photo above for the possibility that, after all is said and done, the Oklahoma Tax Commission, with the willing indifference of the State Department of Education, the Oklahoma School Boards Association, the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators, Tulsa Public Schools (losing $3 million) and other “loser” districts, and many others, completes its wrongful transfer of about $23 million of dedicated motor vehicle license revenue from over half of the state’s school districts (losers) to the other school districts (winners); see my prior posts House Bill 2244 and A Turkish de Fright.  But a recent post by Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs “Vice President for Strategic Initiatives” (wow—I want to see one of those!) Trent England, is as worthy, if not more so, of its use because he makes a $2 billion (that’s nine zeros) error, not in math, but in common sense and understanding.

Here it is the last week for revenue measures to pass the legislature and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is trying its best to remain relevant in the discussion, hoping legislators will believe there is plenty of funding for our schools if all the overpaid school superintendents would just make good decisions.  Mr. England’s contribution is his May 9 post “The Bogus Budget:  Money for Schools” which he opens with the question, “Can a government agency be so important that it must not be questioned or held to account?”  He then gives it his best shot.

First he regurgitates the argument the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has borrowed before from Benjamin Scafidi that there would be plenty of school funding available if districts would just lay off sufficient numbers of teacher assistants, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers—see my earlier posts The Glib, The Bad and The Ugly, Purging the Surge and A Dirge for a Surge.  He also claims Scafidi’s research found “that administrators protect their own:  when cutting staff, they are far more likely to fire classroom teachers than non-teaching staff.”  I read Scafidi’s reports last fall when writing my posts and do not recall any such finding.  If I believed that Trent England has actually read the reports as well, I’d take the time to check out the basis of this absurd assertion.  But I’m not going to waste my time because, as you will see later, Mr. England’s reading and comprehension skills are pretty limited, so this silly assertion is most likely a distortion or just simply made up (probably he has coffee with his OCPA colleague Dave Bond who also makes stuff up (see Something Special and Waiting for Dave Bond).

Next he describes what he believes is waste at the Catoosa Public Schools.  I wrote a little about this in my post Done Waiting for Mr. Bond so am not going to do any more here.  Besides, even if one school district is making bad choices, that doesn’t mean the rest are—any more than when I show below that Mr. England is a Limited Thinker that we should conclude that all of his other colleagues at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs are also Limited Thinkers…or maybe there is something to his Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum logic.

Now for the really fun, but dangerous (to good public policy), part of Mr. England’s latest “strategic initiative”; he shows this graphic, taken from the FY ’17 Appropriations Report:  Actions of the 2016 Legislature at Page 17, FY 17 Appropriations Report

When you look at this table it tells an amazing story, one that I immediately knew was “unbelievable” as should have Mr. England, if the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs were truly serious about doing thoughtful research, which they are not.  What the Table clearly shows is that while appropriations from the legislature have remained fairly steady somewhat above $2 billion each of the years shown, total school district expenditures, including operation of the State Department of Education, were growing slightly around the $6 billion level from 2013 through 2015, and then (here’s the unbelievable part) jumped by about $1 billion in 2016 and again by another $1 billion in 2017.  I know enough about Oklahoma school finance to find the years 2013 through 2015 believable because state appropriations have been pretty flat for several years, while other school district sources, like property taxes and state dedicated revenues, have grown slightly.  But I knew that $1 billion increases in each of 2016 and 2017 simply did not happen so couldn’t wait to figure out what was behind this silliness.

Mr. England was kind enough to point me to the Oklahoma Senate source where you can review the past several years of its publication “FY ‘XX Appropriations Report”.  If you look at Page 17 of the Page 17, FY 17 Appropriations Report you find the Table above, and you will also find footnotes.  The limited thinkers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs must have slept through their reading and math instruction about the importance of reading footnotes—especially when something is obviously unbelievable.  Here is the critical footnote that Mr. England chooses to ignore:  “# FY ’16 and FY ’17 expenditures do not include OTRS apportionment dollars but DO include carry over funds.   So the Senate reporters decided, for these most recent two years only, to show “carry over funds” as expenditures.  That’s interesting because carry over funds are the totals of revenues school districts actually received, but did NOT expend.  But the Senate is allowed to make the rules for their reports.

The FY ’16 and FY ’17 reports have the appropriations detail in the back while the earlier publications do not.  When you look at the SDE Detail FY 17 Appropriations Report here at the bottom of the second page you see the $8.476 billion number shown in the Table and it includes, directly above, $2.044 billion in school district “carry forward” revenue which is very close to the State Department of Education OCAS report totals for “cash forward June 30, 2016” of $2.048 billion (being available to expend in FY ’17) which confirms we’re looking at the right numbers.  So what explains the $2 billion increase in school district “expenditures” from 2015 to 2017?  It is almost entirely explained by the arbitrary decision by whoever puts together the Senate appropriations report to include carry over funds as expenditures in the total for FY ’17 but not for FY ’15 or any earlier year. 

That then left only the puzzle of why FY ’16 increased by only about $1 billion when I knew that it also should have gone up by close to the $2 billion in carry over (the SDE OCAS reporting shows $1.921 billion available as of June 30, 2015).  What I’ve concluded is that the number in the Table shown, $7.434 billion, is an error and should be $8,212 billion, as an “apples to apples” comparison with the $8.476 billion total reported for FY ’17.  You will see the $8.212 billion in the same place of the SDE Detail FY 16 Appropriations Report as is the $8.476 billion total in the SDE Detail FY 17 Appropriations Report I refer to above.   What’s interesting is that the FY ’17 totals, Table and detail, are the same, but the FY ’16 totals are $800 million apart.  That is not the only discrepancy I discovered in looking at prior year appropriation reports on the Senate’s website.  It seems that the methodology used changes from year to year so, unlike most annual reporting, these reports are probably accurate only for some longitudinal comparisons—like year-to-year appropriations—but not for others, like comparing expenditure totals.  The legislature controls, and presumably understands, appropriations.  How appropriations are combined, and what is included, to show “total expenditures” though can be done in many inconsistent ways—and these reports show that vividly—depending on what story someone wants to tell.

So Trent England’s “strategery” is to fool his readers, hopefully no legislators read his blog posts, and likely himself as well, into believing that Oklahoma school districts, even with flat state appropriations, have been able to increase their collective expenditures by over two billion dollars during the last two years—so what are they complaining about?  Unbelievable!  Mr. England is a true Limited Thinker.

There is one notable other footnote, though I haven’t confirmed it has been consistently applied.  It says “Expenditures are calculated using OCAS totals less bond sinking funds…”    So unlike our limited thinker at the 1889 Institute, see my post Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, at least the Senate knows to avoid double counting.

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




Source: Oklahoma State Senate

2 thoughts on “Unbelievable!”

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