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Per Pupil Spending

June 22, 2012

Not wanting to break form, the Oklahoman and Oklahoma State Department of Education are again showing that they just don’t understand public education. An article in the paper this morning highlights the fact that Oklahoma spent more than only three states per student in 2010. The map below shows state-by-state spending more clearly.


In the article, SDE spokesman Damon Gardenhire glibly states, “If you look at academic results, per-pupil spending doesn’t necessarily correlate to good academic results…Most people would agree Washington, D.C., is … very challenged academically.” Referencing D.C. schools makes for a nice distraction, but it isn’t relevant to Oklahoma, for a number of reasons. While only slightly larger than OKC and Tulsa Public, the political and socio-economic structure of the population served is altogether different.

The article showed per pupil spending from the districts in Oklahoma with more than 10,000 students. Using 2010 data, since that correlates with this study, I also looked at the achievement scores of the highlighted districts. To provide context, I also added a column for their free/reduced lunch rates.

As you can see, the state’s two largest districts are also the poorest districts on this list. They are also the highest spending and lowest performing districts represented here. (For reference, I used the published API scores from 2010 – you know…the ones that Superintendent Barresi thinks confuse parents…because numbers are harder to understand than letter grades that take a 32 page treatise to explain.)

District 2010 Spending 2010 Poverty 2010 API Score
Broken Arrow $6,669 30.8% 1194
Edmond $6,868 23.6% 1346
Moore $6,924 39.7% 1257
Union $6,924 47.0% 1166
Putnam City $7,116 65.9% 1124
Norman $7,243 41.9% 1259
Mid-Del $7,390 63.5% 1114
Jenks $7,492 26.3% 1298
Lawton $8,022 57.5% 1098
OKC $8,252 83.5% 896
Tulsa $8,630 83.1% 920
State Average $7,896 58.9% 1092

For the most part, the data show that Oklahoma’s larger school districts have less money to spend per pupil than the state average. Since OKC and Tulsa have such high levels of poverty, they get more federal funding, boosting their capacity to spend. The data also clearly show that the districts with less poverty do better academically. Of course, I showed that as well as I know how when I started my blog two months ago, writing that rewarding academic achievement is really little more than rewarding relative wealth.

In Remedial Math for Legislators, I also showed the extent to which state support for public education has declined. By keeping education funding flat this year, the state of Oklahoma is still funding public education at a lower level than it did in 2007. Gardenhire, who has never worked in public education, goes on to say that “a scattershot approach” will not work. He’s right about that. The state should target specific needs and fund them. The agency paying his salary is doing neither of these things.

It bears repeating that the legislature and SDE are implementing more reforms at one time than public education in this state has ever seen. It also bears repeating that schools have to do more, for more students, and more poor students than ever before – but with less money. We have a moral and ethical obligation to teach children effectively. No amount of rhetoric from disingenuous politicians and their complicit newspaper can change that.

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  1. Judith
    June 24, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    And though it’s pennies in the overall education budget, it seems that JB has brought in people like Gardenhire and others at higher salaries than their predecessors, if they had a predecessor (there are quite a few new positions for which I haven’t figured out what the job itself entails). Her staff is getting top heavy, with many people who haven’t worked in education, who make large salaries for a public service position, and who do what?


  2. Jolene Graves
    June 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    We need to understand the reason lower income students do not perform as well in school as middle and upper income students. From personal experience I have found that lower income parents do not hold their children accountable for their academic success. If they perform poorly or act out in school it is the schools fault in their opinion. We need to find a way to help these families understand that we are a team and their child’s success is our goal.


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