In-depth Look at the Education Budget
As we approach the end of the legislative session this week, it is worth taking one last look at the $74 million being added to the education budget. The spreadsheet is too involved to reproduce in a neat, bloggable format, so to fully understand what I’m talking about, you’ll need to follow this link and look for yourself.
Columns H through N show the line items that received specific funding amounts from Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 through 2014. If you don’t typically operate in the world of fiscal years, let me quickly explain. The 2013-14 school year is known financially as FY14, and it runs from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014. Each fiscal year runs from the first of July through the end of June and is known by the last two digits of the ending year.
State aid is still the largest source of school funding. The money that goes through the formula (Line 3: State Aid – Financial Support of Schools) is where districts get the fund to pay for most of their support staff, teachers, and administrators. While some federal funding and line item funding is also used to pay personnel costs, this is much less significant. As a rough number, districts typically use a figure between $55,000 and $60,000 to estimate the cost of a teacher. So for the sake of this post, I’ll estimate that every million dollars in the funding formula can support the hiring of about 17 teachers.
From FY09 to FY14, the funding formula specifically has lost over $198 million. Restoring this amount would fund roughly 3,366 teaching positions. Unfortunately, even if all $74 million in new common education funding went into the formula, it would barely make a dent. That’s why everybody from administrators to teachers to school board members to parents is frustrated that the allocation includes a mere $21 million for the formula.
While I am happy to see increased support for ACE Remediation (Line 6) and Reading Sufficiency (Line 39), there are other programs that just don’t make as much sense, given the fiscal limitations of the overall budget. I will give a few big-ticket examples.
Line 28 (Oklahoma Student Information System Data) is listed as a new expense in the amount of $2 million. I was under the impression we already have a student data system. I’d love to hear why we need this new expense, in this amount, at this time.
Line 34 (REAC3H Coaches) includes $4.25 million for salaries and support. We have to ask ourselves if the investment is worth it. They spend one week a month in OKC receiving training and then turn around and spend less than a day a month on average in each of the schools they’re serving. For as sharp as they are, and with everything they’re learning, the return-on-investment just isn’t there.
Line 47 (School Rewards Competitive Grants Pool) is another new item, to the tune of $2.8 million. I understand that the SDE wants to reward high-achieving and quickly-improving schools. However, when funding for the basics is lacking, we can’t afford to be picking winners and losers and throwing competitive grant money at the winners.
Line 52 (Teach For America) includes $2.5 million in new funding to recruit teachers into the profession. While TFA has some success stories, and regularly places a high percentage of those completing training in hard-to-staff urban schools, the length of service of their teachers is pretty inconsistent. Supporting graduates of research-based teacher preparation programs from our colleges and universities should be a higher priority.
The budget also calls for $2 million for TLE (line 54), $3 million for testing (line 56), and $1.8 million for Think Through Math. Since the SDE made schools pay out of pocket for training principals and teachers last year, the TLE amount could be seen as compensation. However, the vast majority of training is done, and schools will not be able to recoup that cost. On testing, if this is an increase of $3 million, I’m against it. Since CTB/McGraw-Hill is slated to receive $8.9 million a year with the current contract, I don’t see making a deeper investment in testing as something we should support. As for the Think Through Math Program, I hear some districts are using it, but others already had purchased programs to provide support, intervention, and remediation to students. It’s something the SDE bought for all of us without asking if it was needed.
These seven line items amount to $18.35 million. While this would hardly solve our funding problems, placing that amount back into the formula should be a higher priority than such ancillary concerns.
I should also point out that the spreadsheet has hidden columns. If you’ll unhide columns B through G, you can see funding for each fiscal year going back to 2002, which happened to be another year in which districts suffered major cuts. You’ll see that following that dip in the economy, it took schools four years to get back to where they had been.
For this cycle, it’s been five years now. And we’re nowhere close to being back.