Oklahoma’s public schools have relatively low administration costs

[Download a pdf of this fact sheet here.]

Over the last five years, Oklahoma has made some of the deepest cuts to funding for local schools of any state in the country. Some critics claim that Oklahoma can adequately fund schools by reducing administrative costs without increasing the total amount spent on our public education system. However, an analysis of school spending shows that Oklahoma spends relatively little on school administration, and there are not enough savings to be found in cutting administration to significantly improve funding for instruction.

Most spending goes toward instruction and support services.

Oklahoma Pie-01

According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 57.2 percent of expenditures by Oklahoma’s K-12 education system goes to direct instruction. Another 33.4 percent of expenditures goes to functions that directly support students and teachers (including food and transportation, guidance counselors, nurses, libraries, computer centers, and maintenance of school facilities). That leaves 8.4 percent for both school and district-level administration and 0.9 percent for business operations.

Cutting administration would not create enough savings to significantly improve spending on instruction.

Oklahoma K-12 schools currently rank 48th out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for per pupil spending, according to the US Census. In most categories of expenditure, the picture is the same. We rank 48th for spending on instruction and school-level administration. We rank slightly higher (40th) for spending on support services. The data shows that Oklahoma does spend comparatively more on superintendents’ offices. The $257 per student spent on district-level administration was 20th highest in the nation.

However, even under a highly optimistic estimate, we could not find enough savings out of district administration to significantly improve funding for instruction. Hawaii, which has only one statewide school district, spends the least on district administration ($31 per student). If we somehow reduced our spending to match that and put all of the savings into the classroom, we could increase spending on instruction by less than 3 percent ($226 per student). The next highest state in the spending rankings (Mississippi) spends $4,754 per pupil on instruction. The addition of $226 would bring Oklahoma to $4,664. That’s not enough to change Oklahoma’s ranking by even one spot, and we would have restored less than a third of the $706 per pupil that schools have lost since 2008.

New mandates have increased administrative burdens.

Even while spending on administration remains low, the administrative burdens on schools have increased due to new mandates approved by lawmakers. These include requirements for schools to collect and submit large amounts of data for A-F grade calculations, end-of instruction tests, and 3rd grade reading tests. Next year, schools will be required to conduct more testing as part of the implementation of Common Core curriculum standards.

The school spending data shows clearly that shuffling dollars around won’t fix the funding shortfall. To give our children the resources they need, Oklahoma needs to step up investment in its education system.


Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

5 thoughts on “Oklahoma’s public schools have relatively low administration costs

  1. What Oklahoma are they talking about? None of the school districts I have ever covered as a newspaper reporter. The only way you an get this figure is to include teacher’s salaries as “instruction.”
    Go to any school board budget meeting and you’ll see that personnel costs make up 70% to 80% of the budget!

    1. Personnel costs are included in these numbers. Teachers’ salaries are categorized as instruction.

  2. Why don’t we talk about the elephant in the room: athletics. You notice that there is no category for athletics in the breakout of school expenditures. That’s because schools aren’t required to report expenditures that way. (Those teachers’ salaries for “instruction” includes coaches salaries and doesn’t account for the hours that coaches don’t teach due to games.)

    The US is the only country on earth that includes sports in its education system. In the rest of the world sports are managed in run by private entities. So, we could always privatize sports. In Oklahoma we already have to some extent. Many sports are subject to Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activity Association (OSSAA). We could just turn the entire system over to them – minus all the public infrastructure and equipment, which could be rented or sold to them at fair market value.

    I know that this is a sensitive subject in Oklahoma and I’m not saying that we should cut out sports. What I am saying is that we need to require schools to account for expenditures on athletic activities including all that it requires, maintenance and utilities required to run athletic facilities, coaches salaries, equipment and uniforms, and insurance. Once we know how much the State spends then we can make decisions as to whether the amount is commensurate with the benefit.

    1. Agreed! I went to elementary and middle school in Chicago, and all athletics were run by the Chicago Park District system – school money stayed in the school, and park money came from other sources. We moved before I started high school, so I don’t know how they handle high school sports, but I definitely think that we need to get competitive sports out of the classrooms (not P.E. – that’s different, and we need MORE of that). I know that there is research that shows students benefit from being part of a team, but please explain to me how my students benefit from leaving school early to ride a bus to a competition that lasts until the wee hours – when, exactly, are they supposed to do the homework for my class?

  3. In our district, most games are after hours. Coaches spend two to three hours coaching after 3:00 P.M Coaches teach five of seven periods per day. They have one period for coaching at the end of the day, and a plan period. Coaching here is extra-duty pay. They receive the majority of their pay teaching. I am not advocating athletics over instruction/education by any means, but I don’t see the coaches making a great salary from coaching. As far as being away from instruction, the times of that occurring often are usually during track in the spring. In our district, I believe, maintenance, uniforms, and other expenses are either covered by our proceeds from the games or our booster clubs. I don’t know how they conduct this at other schools; only ours.

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