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Ten Things: OCPA Math

April 19, 2016

It’s Tuesday, and today, I have an oversized Two Things post. Somehow over the weekend, I missed a real nugget in the Tulsa World. Brandon Dutcher, senior vice-president with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), opined about how the state’s budget crisis could be a billion dollars worse. Here’s a dollop:

“Oklahoma has about 692,000 students in public schools,” says Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. “According to the U.S. Census and data from the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 100,000 students are educated outside of the public school system.”

Imagine if 100,000 new students showed up at their local public school tomorrow morning (“I’m here for my free education, please!”). If our elected officials wanted to keep per-pupil spending at its current level, they would have to come up with another billion dollars annually, based on numbers from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System.

One of our policymakers’ chief priorities is public education, i.e., making sure we have an educated public. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter where that education takes place.

Some of it takes place in public schools, for which our political leaders are spending some $10,000 per student (according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s own numbers).

Let’s start there. I see several things floating in the pond already.

1. I looked in the SDE’s system. According to this file, which shows expenditures from all sources of revenue for the 2014-15 school year, Oklahoma school districts spent a grand total of $6.59 billion. This includes General Fund spending, as well as other sources such as the Building Fund, Child Nutrition, and Activity Accounts. That’s actually about $9,600 per pupil. Since Child Nutrition is a self-sustaining fund in most districts, that really doesn’t count. Nor should Activity Funds. Perhaps there are better figures to use.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Oklahoma school districts spent $8,526 per pupil in 2013-14. For the same year, according to Oklahoma’s Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, districts spent $7,875 per pupil. If you want to count debt service in addition to that amount, the average goes up another $813 per pupil.

So somewhere between $8,500 and $9,000 per this and per that is probably accurate.

2. State support for public education is on the decline. As of 2013-14, about 48% of school funding was from state tax dollars. Even if we used Dutcher’s $10,000 per pupil figure, half of it would come from somewhere else. In his thought experiment, the increased billion dollar burden is only half a billion.

3. I can’t tell you the percentage of those 100,000 students who would be served by programs such as free/reduced lunch and special education, but since we’re manipulating statistics, let’s assume both would be lower than what public schools currently serve. Still, the number would be greater than zero. That changes the funding streams as well. Both of those would trigger adjustments in federal aid, generating more tax dollars for schools.

Let me drop a few more chunks here:

Some of it takes place outside of the public school system — in home schools, for example, or in accredited private schools, where the median tuition is $5,310, according to the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission. Cash-squeezed appropriators should be grateful for these thousands of parents who are picking up the tab themselves.

Indeed, politicians should try to save even more money (and reduce school overcrowding) by redirecting some of those 692,000 students into the nonpublic sector.

Many parents would jump at the chance. In the last two years, three different scientific surveys have asked Oklahomans what type of school they would prefer for their children. Each time, many respondents (48 percent, 50 percent, and 30 percent) said they would choose a nonpublic alternative.

Policymakers should try to bridge the gap between actual enrollment and what parents want. A $5,000 voucher, tax credit, or education savings account, for example — even if it didn’t cover the full tuition amount — would spur some of those 692,000 to choose alternatives outside of the public school system. (As for the 100,000 already outside the system? Sorry, I’m afraid in this budget climate that would be too tall an order.)

4. Another fun thing about math is knowing the difference between median and average. The median tuition may be $5,310. What we don’t know is whether that statistic is skewed or not. If so, which direction? It could be that many private schools with low enrollment and low cost drive those numbers downward. The reverse could be true. It’s a number without context, but just for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a representative amount. Is tuition the only revenue source for private schools? Do faith based academies receive appropriations from their congregation or diocese? What level of donor support do they have? Hell, can we count lunches and activity funds too? Apples to apples, right?

5. I can’t speak for all my public school friends, but if any of those 100,000 students were to show up in Mid-Del tomorrow, we’d gladly take them in and find space for them. On the contrary, private schools would only selectively accept the students we serve. As I’ve written before – both on this blog, and in an email exchange with Dutcher last fall– I don’t want private schools to have to change their mission in order to accept all students. I just don’t think tax dollars should go to schools that have missions which would lead them to exclude people.

6. Oklahoma’s budget has been built around OCPA math for more than a decade. It’s probably fair to say, even, that many who serve in leadership roles in the current Legislature are some of the think tank’s strongest disciples. Rather than imagining a budget crisis that’s a billion dollars worse, try imagining one that doesn’t exist at all. That’s an altogether different thought experiment.

7. In January, David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, detailed how tax cuts have decreased state revenue by more than a billion dollars in the last 12 years.

top-rate-2004-2018-1

Cuts to PK-12 education alone, due to these tax cuts, total $356 million.

revenue-lost-to-tax-cuts-by-agency-1

8. It’s not just schools. It’s colleges also. It’s health care, human services, roads and bridges, and corrections too. I’ve said many times that there’s nothing conservative about letting core state services crumble around you. This is the legacy of the term-limited members of what had been the largest freshman legislative class in decades.

9. This is also why the 2016 crop of candidates who have filed for office is even larger than the 2004 class that replaced the first group of term-limited legislators – and why so many of those who have filed are teachers (or teacher-adjacent).

Baby Ruth

10. Lastly, Dutcher’s column in the World is a cold reminder that many of those whose public service is ending next month are still desperate to pass vouchers. Watch for them in the budget bill.

Or your swimming pool.

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  1. Jack
    April 19, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    I read Mr. Dutcher’s op-ed in the Tulsa World and thought “what a bunch of crap!” Thanks for your detailed rebuttal. You sure gave him five Pinocchios. Thank you.

    Like

  2. josh
    April 20, 2016 at 7:58 am

    Love your post like always, but rethink number 4. Averages are what get skewed by outliers not medians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 20, 2016 at 10:09 am

      I see your point, and I agree with it. For example, the average school district size in Oklahoma is 1,307 students. The median is 433 students. I probably could have done a better job explaining that OCPA was comparing the private school median tuition with the public school average cost, and how that’s inherently flawed.

      Like

      • josh
        April 21, 2016 at 1:36 pm

        Ok i see what you are getting at. Comparing means and medians doesn’t always work very well….

        Like

  3. April 24, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    I don’t know where the OCPA gets the $10,000 figure, but whenever you here someone use it you know that they are an OCPA disciple.

    Lets just say, for the sake of argument, that it is accurate. (Sure.) We are still fiftieth in the USA in funding. Last is last. OK, maybe we are 49th. Next to last is still next to last.

    The big challenge is that they believe in their own deception. Makes it easier sound sincere.

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