What are we buying? Effectiveness measures from our upcoming Online Guide

Like most people who watch public budgets, we tend to focus on what is being spent, at the expense of what is being bought. Our upcoming Online Guide to Oklahoma Budget and Taxes looks at state and local expenditures more broadly than the traditional view. For each of six functional areas, the Guide reminds us why we have asked government to take some responsibility and what we hope will result from this collective effort. Then we offer some measures we can use to check progress.

Here are some excerpts from our section on Health and Social Services:

Human, health and social services provide the safety net that is essential to our society. Most Oklahomans agree that government should insure that vulnerable individuals and families can meet their basic needs. It also should promote healthy lifestyles that reduce public and private costs.

Our measures of success in this area suggest we have work to do.

  • 15.9 percent of Oklahomans are poor, according to the federal definition, compared to 11 percent nationwide.
  • Oklahoma ranked 43rd in overall health in 2007, according to the United Health Foundation.
  • 18.7 percent of Oklahomans did not have health insurance in 2006, making Oklahoma 5th highest in uninsured population.

We think Oklahomans should dedicate ourselves to improving our standing in each of these measures. It will take new, better, and–yes–more expensive public health and social investments. It also will require we demand more effective and strategic spending. Along those lines, here are some highlights from the other four functional areas covered in the Online Guide:

  • Education:Oklahoma ranks 1st in access to preschool for 4-year olds, but 37th in percentage of 8th graders proficient in reading.
  • General government: Our high bond ratings indicate we are fiscally sound and worthy of credit, but state government management practices are substandard.
  • Transportation: In spite of receiving more federal highway money than most states, we rank near the top of states for the number of deficient roads and bridges.
  • Public safety: Violent crime rates are better than average for our part of the country, but above the national average. More people die in fires and highway accidents in Oklahoma than in most other states.
  • Natural resources: We are a high energy use state and we lag behind the rest of the country in farm income.

By focusing on both what we spend and what we’re buying, we hope the Online Guide will help Oklahomans expect, and get, more.


Paul Shinn

Paul Shinn served as Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst with OK Policy from May 2019 until December 2021. Before joining OK Policy, Shinn held budget and finance positions for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Department of Human Services, the cities of Oklahoma City and Del City and several local governments in his native Oregon. He also taught political science and public administration at the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, and California State University Stanislaus. While with the Government Finance Officers Association, Paul worked on consulting and research projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and several state agencies and local governments. He also served as policy analyst for CAP Tulsa. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Oklahoma and degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland College Park. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Carmelita.

2 thoughts on “What are we buying? Effectiveness measures from our upcoming Online Guide

  1. Any thoughts about the Tulsa School Systems’ big news? On one hand Kaiser is investing $15 million in community preschool which is the researched way to go. But they are also gambling on a $55 million Gates grant for merit pay. They will hire someone to create a statistical model for evaluating growth in each teachers test scores. For the most part, those models have been shown to be invalid for individual teacher evalutations. Will there be an exodus of teachers from poor schools? Will schooling become nonstop test prep? Is this a bait and switch to break unions one by one? We can’t root for failure. But I’m not hopeful.

  2. Great questions, John. There are fairly well-established links between good outcomes and early childhood education, but less so between good outcomes and merit pay (or good outcomes and test scores). We applaud TPS for thinking that there are better ways and hope they succeed in finding them.

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