Senator Ron Sharp is a Republican representing Senate District 17, which includes parts of Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties. Senator Sharp is now in his sixth year in office. He is Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Governor Fallin has requested through an Executive Order that the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) submit a report showing non-instructional costs compared to instructional costs of the state’s 515 public school districts. This report is due to her office by September 2018.
Legislators debated during special session that before additional revenue is raised, any waste in spending should be eliminated. One concern by some legislators was the lack of efficiency of public school districts that were not using at least 60 percent of state funding on classroom instruction. Gov. Fallin used this 60 percent mark in her Executive Order.
The purpose of this report requested by the Governor is to consider the forced consolidation of school districts that fail to meet the 60 percent instructional threshold. However, there is a problem.
The Oklahoma Cost Accounting System (OCAS) for public schools was created in 1992, and its purpose was to provide uniform policies and procedures to all school personnel responsible for the administration of school district funds. OCAS criteria lists only teachers and textbooks as specific instructional costs under its coding system. Subsequently, most public school coding would list all counselors, teacher aides, internet technology, librarians, custodians, bus drivers, electricity, etc. as non-instructional costs.
Obviously, under the OCAS coding of instructional versus non-instructional costs, the 60 percent threshold is impractical for an evaluation of cost effectiveness for a school district. There are multiple components in the operation of a school district that do not meet the instructional criteria.
For example, 33 percent of students enrolled in Oklahoma City Public Schools and 19 percent in Tulsa Public Schools are English Language Learners (E.L.L.). For these students, translators are required in the classrooms to assist students in understanding their English-speaking teachers. These E.L.L. translators are coded by OCAS as non-instructional. However, without these E.L.L. translators, those students would not be able to learn. Neither of these schools districts can report a 60 percent instructional cost efficiency under the Executive Order.
Even the 37 Oklahoma Public School Districts that receive zero state aid under the OSDE funding formula cannot meet the 60 percent instructional threshold because of the OCAS coding policies.
The National Center for Educational Statistics also conducts a national analysis of state by state instructional and non-instructional costs. A completely different analysis would result if this standard was used.
Since 2008, there has been a 28.2 percent reduction in state general education funding per pupil. However, some legislators still insist there must be waste in public education that can be cut.
One legislator’s answer to public education funding was to allow more children into each classroom. The legislator was referring to the class size limitations of 22 in elementary and 28 in secondary classrooms established under HB 1017 in 1990. What the legislator failed to research is these classroom limitations were removed by statute in 2010. Today, there are classrooms with 30 to 50 children needing the teacher’s individual attention.
The obvious objective of this evaluation of financial efficiency of a school district is to identify administrative costs. However, the OCAS coding reveals the state average of administrative costs is 3.7 percent, well below the 5 percent statutory requirement.
Oklahoma currently ranks 47th in the nation in per pupil expenditure on instruction. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, if Oklahoma were to eliminate every single administrative salary in the state and spend all of those funds on instruction, Oklahoma would still rank 47th in the nation in per pupil spending on instruction.
While public school district costs appear to worry many legislators, there does not appear to be any hesitation on their part to create new charter school districts. An average of five to eight charter school districts are created in Oklahoma each year, which in now approaching nearly 40 charter school districts. Each of these charter schools create new administrative positions and reduce per-pupil expenditure for each student within traditional public school districts. This appears to be the serious problem in the school funding formula since all charter schools receive their direct funding from state appropriations and lack a popularly-elected school board to operate the district.
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