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Posts Tagged ‘Consolidation’

Haiku You Doin?

February 21, 2016 3 comments

I really haven’t had a lot of time to write this week. I attended a conference in Tulsa. We’re budgeting for a massive shortfall next year. And, well, my personal life gets in the way sometime.

Still, some crazy things have happened in the last few days. To acknowledge them, I’m simply going to address each with a single haiku.

House Committee Passes Voucher Bill

Two votes short, no prob –

Bring in Denney and Hickman.

Just so convenient!

Thank the Eight who Voted No

You made the right choice.

No accountability?

Vouchers are a sham.

Blue Cereal Education: End #oklaed

Why fight anymore,

Especially this rigged game?

Like Elsa, let it go.

Rob Miller Opts in to Testing?

Tongue firmly in cheek,

Rob finally wants to test!

It was just a joke.

Senate Education Committee will not hear Consolidation Bills

Senator Ford listens;

His constituents are clear.

Even his bill dies.

A Church Speaks out against Vouchers

Clear and forward thought:

Vouchers threaten liberty.

Thankful they get it.

So we didn’t lose $43 million?

What a huge SNAFU!

Forgot to update spreadsheet!

Inconceivable!

Inconceivable.gif

Oklahoma Education Coalition Releases Verified Figures

school admin figures.png

Enough false narrative!

Trying to distract, divide?

This page gives the facts.

Apparently, Rob, Dallas, and I are still Offending People.

Middle Ground News whines.

Do I intimidate you?

Seriously, dude.

Rob Miller Drops the Mic

He just doesn’t care

What Jay Chilton thinks of him.

We keep striking nerves.

That’s all for tonight. Have a great week, #oklaed!

 

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A Plan to Plan to Plan

January 25, 2016 2 comments

This week, State Senator David Holt announced that teachers in Oklahoma deserve a $10,000 raise.

In related news, puppies are adorable.puppies

I don’t want to sound unappreciative. Of course teachers in Oklahoma deserve at least that much. It’s been a long time coming. The problem is, of course, that raises take money. And that money has to come from somewhere. This being Holt’s sixth year in the Legislature, I started to wonder what he’s been doing so far to lay the tracks for such an outstanding proposal. So I checked his official Senate bio:

Having introduced an income tax cut bill every session, David has also worked to advance the conversation about how tax cuts can grow Oklahoma’s economy. David has also been a leader in fighting for taxpayers to have more control over their tax dollars, including efforts to bring more transparency to the Legislature and to reform laws that place government unions over taxpayers. David has also fought for better public schools, having authored legislation to give parents the ability to turn around a failing school and to expand public school options for families in the inner cities of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. David has also been a leader in efforts to increase voter participation, in light of severely declining turnout in Oklahoma.

Not to sound like a downer here, but it’s hard to raise teacher salaries while cutting state revenue. No matter how much Holt and those like him want to pretend differently, a major portion of our current budget deficit is a direct result of tax cuts. Continuing to pursue them has neither stimulated the economy nor provided additional funding for all the things state government is supposed to support.

Holt also touts his own efforts to label schools as failures and turn them over to parents. He has a record as being a no excuses legislator when it comes to school performance. Meanwhile, I have a record as being a no excuses blogger and administrator when it comes to discussing the performance of our state leaders.

They’ve failed to fund public education properly for years. They’ve created a projected $900 million budget hole for next year (which will probably be worse). They want to blame OPEC. Too bad. We’re just judging you by your outcomes. And if we don’t like them, hopefully we’ll instigate our own takeover and hand the reins of budgeting and public policy over to people who we trust more.

I try to be hopeful, often in the face of every piece of evidence telling me not to be. Sometimes, though, you just can’t choose how to feel. Still, I have been following the press surrounding Holt’s proposal, including this interview with Oklahoma Watch. Here is how Nate Robson framed it:

A Republican senator said he had a “moral obligation” to propose a complicated, six-part plan to give Oklahoma teachers a $10,000 pay raise without a tax increase, despite the state facing a $900 million budget shortfall.

The $400 million proposal, released Thursday by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, instead would seek funding from overhauling tax breaks, by consolidating the number of school districts and by diverting a portion of future budget growth to education.

I agree that this is a “moral obligation.” I also agree that it’s a complicated proposal. I just don’t agree that it’s a plan. Parts of it are a plan to plan. Others seem more like a plan to plan to plan. To explain further, we will need to look at each of the six pieces of legislation that Holt has proposed.

SJR 57: Constitutional amendment; requiring consideration of tax reform; prohibiting granting of tax credits under certain conditions.

The text of the measure basically reads as an ultimatum to end tax credits. It would also require the recovered revenue to go to teacher salaries.

This measure enacts a new Section 2.1 of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. It requires the Legislature to consider significant reform of tax credits, rebates, exemptions and deductions. If such significant reform is not enacted prior to January 1, 2018, no credit against any state tax shall be granted in calendar years 2018 and 2019. Significant reform would be determined to have been met if changes to the laws relating to tax credits, rebates, exemptions and deductions result in an increase of $200 million in the amount available for appropriation by the Legislature for fiscal year 2019, as compared to the amount for fiscal year 2017. The State Board of Equalization would make this determination. If significant tax reform was enacted, the Legislature would be required to appropriate at least $200 million in additional funds to be used to increase teacher salaries. This section would expire and be repealed on July 1, 2030.

The funny part about this is that the challenge to getting OU President David Boren’s  penny sales tax came from conservatives who claimed to be concerned against logrolling – the practice of creating a ballot question that contains more than one topic, as this one clearly does. It’s a good thing the state Supreme Court ruled that Boren’s plan is in fact constitutional. Otherwise, Holt’s proposal would have no chance.

The problem I see is that he wants the voters of the state to command future legislators to find the credits that can be reformed. He’s setting a deadline and saying find $200 million to cut, or nobody gets a tax credit. This would have to be completed by the end of the 2017 legislative session (or an ensuing special session) to go anywhere. Holt isn’t saying he has an idea where those reforms can be found; he’s just saying he’s certain they’re there and that we had better find them or else. It’s a plan to plan.

SB 1238: Teacher pay; providing for an increase in teacher compensation.

This is a classic if A and B, then C kind of proposition.

For the 2018-2019 school year, each full-time certified teacher shall receive a pay increase equivalent to a Five Thousand Dollar ($5,000.00) increase in the previous school year’s compensation, exclusive of any one-time stipend or overtime payments.

SECTION 2. The provisions of this act shall not become effective as law unless Enrolled Senate Joint Resolution No. 57 of the 2nd Session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature becomes effective as law.

If voters approve Holt’s initial state question, and the Legislature finds $200 million to cut in tax credits, then all teachers get a $5,000 raise.

In this scenario, A is a longshot. And B – picture nearly 150 legislators trying to hash out which credits get cut – is a longer shot. First, they’d have to navigate through all the lobbyists swarming the Capitol. If those two things happen, surely nothing can get in the way of teachers getting raises, right?

Not even the current $900 million shortfall we’re facing?

We’re simply moving money from pile to pile. Maybe a better way to say it is that we’re simply moving deficits around to appear flush.

Shell Game

Before we start promising future allocations to be appropriated off-the-top (a practice about which I heard several legislators moaning last Wednesday), first we have to figure out how to pay our current bills. If the state has any chance at not cutting education funding further this year, the Legislature will have to reform tax credits now.

SB 1256: Teacher compensation; creating the Securing Teacher Compensation Fund; providing for apportionment of revenue.  

This bill creates a new fund of off-the-top revenue to be distributed exclusively for teacher raises. It’s called the Securing Teacher Compensation Fund. It counts on future revenue growth, of which the first $200 million would be exclusively and permanently be reserved for increasing teacher salaries.

That sounds great, except for a few problems. One is that student enrollment is increasing. We are going to need more teachers. Another is that our support employees work 40 hour weeks, in many cases year-round, and make way less than our teachers. We’ve shifted the cost of textbooks and technology to our bond funds (those of us with any bonding capacity). We’ve moved utilities and maintenance into the building fund. And we still can’t afford to properly staff our buildings.

Our budgets are being held together by threads, and teacher salaries are just one of the problems. It’s a huge one; these are the people who spend every day with our students. It’s the problem we need to address first. If Holt’s proposal were to come to full fruition, though, we’d just be getting started.

SB 1278: Teacher pay; directing the State Board of Education to implement certain salary increases upon certain apportionment.

This is where Holt takes that magical $200 million and turns it into $5,000 raises again. If he passes all these bills, he can say he supported public education, even if we don’t see a penny.

Sidebar: I will give Holt credit for one thing. There’s zero chance these bills have the ALEC or OCPA seals of approval.

Another problem with this pair of bills is that we have to see growth in state revenue – as we continue to cut taxes. Remember, Holt will keep authoring bills to cut taxes. He believes it’s the right thing to do. I respect that. It’s just no way to fund the raises he promises on the backs of unicorns and rainbows.

Maybe that’s too harsh. Here’s how Holt’s press release describes SB 1278’s hopes and dreams:

We know that the economy will improve sometime in the future, and we know that state tax revenues will rise as well. Rather than an oral commitment, this makes it lawfully required that future revenue growth goes first to teacher pay raises. The current shortfall actually presents an opportunity to do something we might have otherwise found impossible. Two years ago, if you had suggested that the state find $200 million in existing spending and redirect it to teacher pay raises, it wouldn’t have happened because no one wants to rob Peter to pay Paul. But this year, we have no choice but to take money from Peter because we don’t have it. So, the hard part will already be accomplished. When revenue growth returns, it will no longer be spoken for. Let’s turn today’s pain into a future opportunity to increase teacher pay.

It’s a Doerflinger-esque statement. We have an opportunity. Someday my prince will come. Or something like that. The economy can’t suck forever, and when it finally recovers from what we’ve done to it OPEC, all the growth will go to public education. We mean it this time.

SJR 58: Constitutional amendment; creating the School Modernization and Renew Teaching Commission

Now we’re going to compound the good deeds we’re doing by consolidating school districts:

This measure adds a new section of law to the State Constitution. It adds Section 9 to Article 13. It creates a commission to propose a new school district map that would contain only 200 school districts. It provides for appointments to the commission. It requires the commission to submit its proposal to the Legislature by a certain date. It establishes requirements that the proposal must meet. It provides a process for how the proposal is to be considered by both branches of the Legislature. It provides for consideration of the proposal by the Governor. It states that this section of the Constitution shall expire on a certain date.

There’s this pervasive myth that we’re burning money by having so many school districts in Oklahoma. Each one needs management. What we fail to discuss too often is that many of our small, rural districts function with one administrator only.

Holt wants a state question that will force consolidation to an arbitrarily chosen number of school districts – 200. I don’t know how he arrived at that number. In fact, nobody knows how he arrived at most of the details in his bills. As he states in his interview with Oklahoma Watch:

I didn’t need to talk to education folks because there is no education policy in here. This needed expertise in politics, which I have.

I didn’t think it was imperative to work with a bunch of people because this is a complicated plan. I didn’t want people saying it couldn’t be done or saying we should wait to do this later. Instead, I wanted to unveil a plan now and see if anyone else can come up with something better.

Leadership is not waiting to have a consensus. Good leadership is coming up with a bold plan and then seeing if you can come to a consensus.

Actually, that’s the opposite of good leadership, Senator Holt. Consensus is something that involves the opinions of people who do the work. You want to close school districts, but you don’t think your ideas have anything to do with education policy? You’re wrong. Simply wrong.

I know you say schools won’t close – just districts. What you fail to realize is that you really can’t save money without closing them. You’re being bold and pandering to your metropolitan voters, casting the problem of school funding as an effect of having too many rural districts. What you’re not doing is putting yourself into a position in which you’ll have to make the decisions about which districts close.

Look, I’m a product of large, suburban schools. Until 2002, that was all I had known, as a student or a professional. Then I spent two years in Medford as a secondary principal. What you’re proposing would save little while costing communities more than you can understand.

SJR 59: Constitutional amendment; requiring State Treasurer to certify certain savings amount; providing for use

This is a third state question (for a guy who frequently calls for a state constitutional convention to sort out how convoluted it is, he sure proposes a lot of constitutional amendments) that would shift all savings from consolidation into more teacher raises.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that we consolidate to exactly 200 districts and 300 superintendents lose their jobs. At best, that saves about $30 million. At best. Again, some of these superintendents are also building principals and teach classes. In many small, rural districts, the superintendent does much more than run the district.

I know $30 million sounds like a lot. In the grand scheme of the state budget, though, it’s not. That’s not even another $1,000 to teachers, or to other costs.

The fact is that what Oklahoma spends per pupil is well below the regional and national average. It’s a numerator and denominator thing. If the amount we spend doesn’t change, and the number of students doesn’t change, then per pupil spending doesn’t change.


 

Overall, Holt’s proposal is built on wishes. I categorically reject the last two bills because I don’t think school district consolidation is the financial windfall some want it to be. At best, it’s a political distraction pitting city folk against country folk. When our state leaders are unwilling to roll back a .25% tax cut that costs the General Revenue Fund between $120 and $140 million this year, consolidation should be political non-starter.

The two bills in the middle are tied to future revenue growth. I’d love to think it could happen, but it’s not something on which to build a plan. Again, if we keep cutting taxes, the chances for revenue growth just grow slimmer and slimmer.

As for the first two bills, I say why wait? Reform tax credits and off-the-top spending in 2016. What’s the problem with that? Courage is what you do now, not what you plan to plan to do in the future. Someone who would seem to agree is state Representative Jason Dunnington.

Dunnington1   Dunnington2

As Dunnington wrote on Facebook last night:

Many folks in HD88 and members of the education community have asked my opinion of recent proposals to raise teachers salaries without raising taxes. First, let me say I am thankful that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are beginning to see what the business community and Democrats have been saying for years. Without a renewed investment in Oklahoma education we will not produce the quality workforce needed for growth and prosperity.

To be blunt, when Republicans have 71 of 101 votes in the House of Representatives, 39 of 48 in the State Senate, and every state wide elected office, if you want to raise teacher pay then raise it. With a supermajority Republicans have all the votes needed to do it now. To propose future raises based off finding new efficiencies in government, or repealing available tax credits, deductions, rebates or exemptions would make sense if we didn’t need those to cover our current billion dollar shortfall. The fact is, Oklahoma doesn’t have enough revenue to cover our existing obligations let alone increase investment in our most basic functions of government. If raising teacher salaries is really a priority, even a moral obligation, then new revenue must be a part of the conversation or recent proposals will be nothing more than lip service.

I don’t know if Dunnington’s comments are a direct response to Holt’s proposal, but I’ll treat them as such. The Republicans control the entire Legislature. They have every statewide office. If they think they can cut taxes, reform tax credits, and raise teacher salaries, they should do it right now. It’s an election year, after all. It’s an opportunity!

The truth is that there is no silver bullet to fixing the state economy, the revenue streams that fund public services, or the problems resulting from a systematic de-funding of public schools over the last eight years. If school consolidation were that plan, I’d bite my teeth and support it. It’s not.

I appreciate that Holt at least had an idea – a complicated idea – and put it forward. Maybe some of this will happen, someday. I have more than 1,000 teachers working for me, though, and they’re tired of waiting for someday.

What can you do for us now, when you hold all the cards? That’s the question. Quit planning. Start doing.

School District Size; School District Spending

September 23, 2015 1 comment

I’m used to reading ill-informed attacks on school funding. They come from newspapers. They come from think tanks. They come from academic-type folks. Today’s editorial in the Oklahoman from Ph.D. economist Byron Schlomach with the 1889 Institute hits the myth trifecta.

Among his claims:

  • The 300 smallest school districts in Oklahoma account for less than 13% of all public education expenditures.
  • The 12 largest school districts in the state account for 40% of all public education expenditures.
  • The 12 spend about $500 more per pupil than the 300.
  • Oklahoma districts overall spend more than $10,000 per pupil.
  • The state makes it hard to find information about school spending.

I’ll start with the last claim. It’s not that hard to get data on school districts and spending or really anything else. Just contact the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability and ask for their most recent database. This one happens to be for the 2013-14 school year. They’ll send you data going back to 1997 if you ask.

I’m against using geographic or other differences to pit school districts against each other. On the other hand, I’m superintendent of one of those 12 mega-districts that Schlomach thinks should be torn asunder. Using the 2013-14 database, I ran a few numbers on the whole state, the 12 largest districts, and the 300 smallest ones.

Variable 12 Largest 300 Smallest All Districts
Enrollment 249,916 83,087 668,054
Economically Disadvantaged Students 157,461 56,260 413,578
Special Education Students 34,463 15,626 101, 090
ELL Students 31,536 1,885 42,271

The 12 largest districts in the state actually educate 37% of the state’s students. The 300 smallest districts educate about 12% of the state’s students. The numbers of economically disadvantaged and special education students follow within a couple of percentage points. The ELL population heavily leans towards the biggest districts; these 12 have 67% of all the state’s ELL students. Hold that thought.

Variable 12 Largest 300 Smallest All Districts
Total Spending 1.95 billion 777 million 5.26 billion
Local Funding 47% 43% 10%
State Funding 35% 52% 14%
Federal Funding 40% 48% 12%

The 12 largest districts spend a lot of money. According to these figures, during the 2013-14 school year, they accounted for 37% of all school spending in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the 300 smallest districts accounted for about 15% of all spending. This sounds about right. It’s pretty close to the enrollment percentages too.

The Oklahoma City and Tulsa districts have a number of factors that complicate their districts, but overall, this group has the ability to provide broader, unduplicated services in their larger settings. Small districts can’t be as efficient. It’s a fact. It’s just not a clarion call for consolidation. Remember, I’ve worked in rural schools too. I see their value.

The other issue with his research is the $10,000 amount. He’s including bond debt – twice. That’s what happens when you count debt repayment and the sinking fund separately. They’re the same thing. He’s also counting activity funds. Yes, that volleyball cookie dough fundraiser is counted as revenue and expenditures in his methodology. Technically, it is money in and money out, but it is not tied to the direct instruction or operation of the school district.

The problem with bond debt is that it’s very localized and quite varied. More than 130 districts have no debt repayment listed. That means either their patrons haven’t passed a bond recently or that they just don’t have the assessed property valuation to make a bond issue worth it.

Whether you’re one of the 12…

Or one of the 300…

300 movie

…one thing is certain. State aid is still lower than it was in 2009 – to the tune of about $149 per pupil. The districts that have the bond indebtedness have moved more instructional and operational costs into here than ever before. This stymies capital improvement, such as modernizing heat and air systems for aging schools.

This is nothing but a distraction from the fact that schools still teach more students under more mandates and with fewer teachers and less funding than they did 6 years ago.

I’m no economist. I’m just an administrator who wrote his dissertation over Oklahoma school district expenditures, with a focus on economies of scale and diseconomies of scale. If you were one of the 12 people who read it, you would’ve been dazzled with passages such as this:

Ok, none of it was really exciting. It’s a dissertation.

I also did a little research on the group Dr. Schlomach represents, the 1889 Institute. According to their website:

The 1889 Institute is an independent non-profit 501c3 education and research organization that analyzes and develops state public policies for Oklahoma based on principles of limited and responsible government, free enterprise, and a robust civil society. We disseminate analysis and recommendations to both public policy makers and the general public. Our focus is on education, healthcare, welfare, economic liberty, and state finance.

The 1889 Institute does not engage in policy advocacy but does provide policy expertise to public policy makers and advocacy groups. The Institute does not have members or engage in grassroots organizational activities.

Funny, his editorial sounds like policy advocacy to me. Maybe I’m just reading this part wrong:

Diseconomies happen when enterprises get so large that it is impossible to manage them well. The state’s 12 biggest districts seem to have entered diseconomies territory. Instead of a big effort to consolidate our smaller school districts, let’s work to split up some of our largest.

Sure, there’s no real plan there. Sure, the facts are quite specious. Still, he’s taking a position.

Since they’re a non-profit, I decided to look up their funding sources on GuideStar. What I found is that this organization formed in 2014. Since they’re that new, there’s no 990 tax form on their website as of yet. I can make some guesses, based on the people who were excitedly retweeting the article today. That would be speculation, however. I’ll stick to facts I actually know.*


*On the other hand, since the 1889 Institute shares the same physical address as a prominent right-wing Oklahoma non-profit think tank, maybe I wouldn’t be speculating all that much.

mic drop

Adventures in Efficiency

October 19, 2012 Comments off

Legislators this week held several interim studies related to making public education more efficient. Oklahoma Capitol Source has a good summary from Tuesday’s meetings, and the Tulsa World has a good summary from Wednesday.

The first study looked at the effects of class size restrictions, eventually evolving into a discussion of deregulation. After an initial focus on the exemption to class size laws in districts with high amounts of bond debt, they then began to question the extent to which this should be a matter of local control.

The second study – on digital learning – seemed to meander between topics. There was a discussion of electronic textbooks. Rep. Nelson wanted to know how technology staff were coded. Probably the most important discussion was about the varying degrees of infrastructure for technology in districts throughout the state. In some rural areas, it’s not even a concern about money. It’s about access to the bandwidth itself.

Wednesday’s study focused on created administrative efficiencies and centered on this report from the Office of Accountability. An estimate of cost savings that could be achieved through consolidation, its preparers were careful not to promise that those figures were a sure thing. The truth is that a district with 1,000 students and six schools will have more expenses not directly related to instruction than a district with 1,000 and three schools. I respect the fact that the Office of Accountability study intends to keep schools open; however, the cost of keeping the building open is the biggest reason that the cost savings are unlikely to materialize.

We’ve heard in the last few months that Governor Fallin is for consolidation. And that Superintendent Barresi is against it. We’ve also heard a cacophony from Republican legislators who can’t decide whether they’re going to increase the budget for public schools. There’s so much noise about efficiency right now, it’s really hard to predict what form this momentum will take.

Informed Discussion on Consolidation

Rural schools are necessarily inefficient.

Read that statement again; it’s not a slam on rural schools. It’s just a statement of fact. If a school has 30 seniors every year, the cost of educating students ends up being higher on a per pupil basis. Add to that the higher transportation costs and other associated expenses that come with being located in remote areas, and this simple fact is exacerbated.

Today, the Oklahoman ran a feature on the difficulties in the state pursuing consolidation from a policy perspective. In this respect, they have the issue right. So many legislators represent at least one small, rural district, that consolidation is tantamount to political suicide. And as you know, our elected leaders don’t exactly qualify for the sequel to Profiles in Courage.

Some districts have consolidated in recent years because of lagging funding from the state. They simply can’t continue operating. In public sector terms, they have gone out of business.

In western Oklahoma, many of the smaller districts get so much of their funding from ad valorem taxes from oil and gas that they wouldn’t necessarily feel the pinch from the loss of state aid and have to close down.

Another issue raised in the feature is the average salary of superintendents. Similarly, a story in the Tulsa World yesterday questioned the practice by many districts in the area of providing cars for superintendents. These are local decisions made to attract and keep top area leaders. I see a number of inconsistencies in salaries across the state, and I question the wisdom of providing cars for administrators, but these aren’t the decisions crippling school funding.

The Oklahoman also draws comparisons to Arkansas and Oregon. They do not mention why those two states are good exemplars for Oklahoma, but Arkansas has gone through a huge overhaul to its education system in the last decade. The results were twofold – fewer districts, and more total spending for education. Even if the legislature, state superintendent, and governor could agree on a consolidation plan, the more spending part would never happen.

This is a serious conversation that needs to happen, but it needs a foundation in reality. Leaders from urban and suburban areas need to spend meaningful time in rural communities and schools to gain an understanding of what the challenges are in these areas. Only then will they have some perspective about how their decisions might impact children.

Governor Fallin Wants to Have “The Talk”

Governor Fallin yesterday said that “It is time to have a debate about the structure of our school systems.” This comes a week after the Oklahoman said that it’s time to have a serious discussion about funding public education. That gives us a lot to talk about. In essence, she wants to discuss consolidation of small school districts in Oklahoma, while trying not to lose political capital.

A good place to start would be by going back in time another week. As the legislative session was winding down, Oklahoma Policy Institute showed very clearly the extent to which state support for public education has been declining while enrollment in public education has been increasing. Another important consideration should be who gets to be included in the discussion – and what level of input they will really have.

When the SDE was writing the state’s waiver to No Child Left Behind, educators from all parts of Oklahoma were invited to the Oliver Hodge Building for a day of committee meetings. Many of the unanimous decisions of committee members were discarded, with SDE staff making clear that most of the framing of the waiver had already been done. The committee had been brought in as a formality.

Similarly, with every promulgation of rules for various education reforms in the state, a nominal comment period has been allowed. The SDE has even allowed interested parties to come speak to a room full of tape recorders over spring break.

Image

In any important policy discussion, several key elements need to be in place. You have to invite key people and seriously consider their input. You have to address key issues. You have to have facts. You have to consider unintended consequences. And you have to understand the limits to what people who are impacted by the decisions you make are actually willing to live with.

So if the governor wants to embark on a discussion about consolidation of school districts, she needs to understand the issues in play. Some school districts are so small, that they have an administrator serving as a combined principal/superintendent. Many of those same districts are in remote locations. As such, combining districts won’t necessarily close down buildings. The savings would be minimal. In the case that rural schools are closed and students have to be transported long distances with sparse population, the unintended consequences will include long bus rides for small children and drops in attendance.

Fallin speaks of the potential benefits that would come from consolidation, such as increased academic opportunities for students. There is no doubt that is a critical advantage of larger high schools. As the state pushes for increased virtual instruction, however, it could be that small districts can find creative ways to stay open, reduce costs, and improve the academic menu.

One thing they will all have to consider is the impact of a policy change on their chance for re-election. Most members of the legislature represent multiple school districts. Any vote to consolidate schools on a large scale would likely cost them votes. That’s probably why the governor wants to float the idea with the hope that districts will consolidate voluntarily. The problem is that districts have been able to do that for decades. Without legislative action, the number of school districts in Oklahoma will never change drastically. Wherever these policy discussions go, let’s just hope that the politicians having them truly have their constituents in mind.

 

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