On asterisks, per this and per that
“You can do asterisks and per student and per this and per that and make the statistics say what you want to say,” Hickman said, “But when you look at the actual dollars that are leaving the state going to school districts across the state the argument that there have been cuts prior to the revenue failure simply isn’t true.”
On Friday, House Speaker Jeff Hickman spoke to KWTV about how hurt he is that Oklahomans continue to think that the legislature has cut funding for public schools. It was a bizarre interview, and it included the above treatise on statistics. His statements included these selective nuggets as well:
And Hickman said the appropriations numbers prove it.
State appropriations are up $17.5 million since 2007. And overall funding, Hickman said, is at all-time highs.
“This year we’ll fund at $8.2 billion, the most ever in state history when you look at federal funds, local property tax dollars and all the ways the state funds schools.”
So speaker Hickman wants to take credit for what the federal government does and the money generated by local tax collections? I’m not sure if he realizes this, but much of the increase in local revenue is due to the fact that the state has failed to meet its obligations. Local districts with significant bonding capacity have used it to offset losses in state aid.
As for his claim that state appropriations are up $17.5 million since 2007, this is a fairly small amount, and he very selectively chose a year. To provide a clearer picture, here are some numbers to know.
Table 1: Department of Education Funding Since 2004
|School Year||Funding Amount|
I don’t see where he’s getting $17.5 million. I actually see $90 million increase from FY 07 to this year. Then again, the number I put in for FY 16 has changed a few times due to various revenue failures and the use of Rainy Day Funds. In any case, Hickman picked a low year. Funding is up compared with 2006-07. It’s down compared with 2007-08 or 2008-09. In any case, it’s less than a one percent increase.
I don’t even know what to say. Congratulations? Thank you? No, neither of those seem to fit.
Other numbers tell more of the story. Hickman includes all funding sources when touting the extent to which public schools receive financial support. If you look at those separate sources as a percentage of overall public school revenue, you can see that the state’s share has been in steady decline for years.
Table 2: Funding for schools by source since FY 1999
|School Year||Percent of Revenue from Local Sources||Percent of Revenue from State Aid||Percent of Revenue from Federal Funds|
Last week, Speaker Hickman wrote in the Oklahoman that when he and his party first took control of the Legislature in 2005, they had decades of problems to try to correct. He, and many of the legislators with whom he entered the House 12 years ago, are finishing their last session at the Capitol. All I see is a continual decline in public support for public education.
Beginning in 2001 with the passage of No Child Left Behind, federal aid to public schools increased. Local support for schools remained pretty constant. State aid, as a percentage of overall school funding, began falling. During Hickman’s time in the Legislature, the state has further abdicated its responsibility to Oklahoma’s children.
I’m sure if I had figures for 2014-15, we’d see this trend continue. At what point will the majority of school funding come from local sources? Meanwhile, enrollment during the same period of time has steadily increased.
Table 3: Enrollment in Public Schools in Oklahoma by Year
|School Year||Oct 1 Enrollment|
What Speaker Hickman can’t deny is that we keep getting more students. Going back to the beginning of his time in office, public school enrollment is up by more than 63,000 students. This is why we keep talking in terms of per this and per that. That’s how we look at school finance. It’s how everybody looks at it.
Here’s a reminder of how state aid works, for anyone (inside the Legislature or outside of it) who needs it. Every student enrolled counts as 1. Different grades provide additional weights in the formula. Other designations also add to the formula weights. Here’s a description of the process from the Oklahoma Policy Institute:
State Aid represents the funds that are appropriated by the State Legislature for school districts, and distributed by the State Department of Education through the “State Aid Formula.”
State Aid is based primarily on student counts, with allowances made for various student characteristics represented as grade and categorical weights.
State Aid uses the higher of the current or two previous years’ student counts. Thus, if a district’s student count increases, the State Aid is adjusted in the current year. If a district’s student count decreases, the State Aid does not decrease for two years.
The result is a Weighted Average Daily Membership (WADM). Schools receive state aid based on their WADM. This is the figure that really matters to superintendents and their finance directors.
Table 4: State Aid per WADM
|School Year||Funding Factor|
If Speaker Hickman wants to say that State Aid per WADM is up since 2007, I can’t argue with him. Again, I don’t know if he wants congratulations or gratitude, but I’ll pass. The main reason is that superintendents have repeatedly been told to budget for the upcoming school year as if the funding factor will be between $2,850 and $2,875 per WADM. This would set us back to funding levels not seen in ten years.
In the same KWTV story, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister offered her own analysis:
“We’ve grown by 50-thousand students, but we’re operating on the same dollars as 2008.” Hofmeister said, adding many of those students have special needs that require special assistance. “That’s actually grown by 26% since 2010. We also know that we have students that are facing trauma at home. The incidence of maltreatment has increased in Oklahoma by 95% since 2010.”
The thing about data is that some are objective and some are open to interpretation. Based on his use of data, Speaker Hickman looks at the last nine years as a success in terms of funding public schools. Superintendent Hofmeister sees a different picture. I see what matters most to me as I try to serve the 14,600 students in Mid-Del.
To put these tables together (and basically prove to myself that I’m not imagining things), I looked at several data sources. Among them:
- Office of State Finance Annual Budget Books
- State Department of Education State Aid Calculations
- Office of Educational Quality and Accountability School District Profiles
I don’t make this stuff up. Neither should our elected leaders.