OK teachers’ union and allies contend public education spending is weak, but is it?

OKLAHOMA CITY – A rally demanding massive increases in public school spending, with an emphasis on across-the-board pay hikes for teachers, is expected to draw thousands of people to the Oklahoma state Capitol Monday.

Although common education (grades K-12) is the second largest portion of the state budget (trailing only health care spending), the premise of rally organizers is that the Sooner State has suffered dramatic cuts in spending since 2008-09.

However, critics of that premise are not taking the day off.

The state’s largest free market think tank has disputed low-spending contentions, noting that total federal, state and local common education revenues grew from $11,085.36 in Fiscal Year to $12,206.74 in Fiscal Year 2013.

The latter sum was the largest per-pupil revenues in Oklahoma history, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Vice President Jonathan Small concluded.

Further, from 1998 to 2011, administrative overhead costs and raw numbers of administrative employees in Oklahoma public schools exploded, according to an analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The 13-year boost in the number of administrative FTEs (full-time employees) was 49 percent. In those same years student numbers increased only six percent.

OCPA’s analysis, summarized in a “tip sheet” released early Monday morning (March 31), points out, “If the increase in bureaucratic overhead had simply mirrored the increase in students from 1992 to 2009, Oklahoma could have raised teacher salaries by $4,924.”

OCPA has long contended that critical conclusions about Oklahoma’s common education spending are drawn from incomplete analysis. As Small explained in a blog post, “the whole of common education is the revenue and spending at all levels of the state and local partnership.”

While advocates of spending hikes say the boosts are needed to improve student performance, the newest Cato Institute study on 0state education trends reported a steady increase in spending over the past 40 years – with flat student achievement.

Dollars, not data, are on the minds of those organizing the rally, which could turn out to be the largest since a day-long siege of the Capitol in 1990 drew some 17,000 people to demand passage of a school spending increase.

School boards across the state followed suit. Some public school foundations are renting school buses from school districts to support transportation of hundreds to the Capitol. 

Some bus riders coming from Tulsa will watch a video and receive professional development credit.

Shuttles will take students and teachers to the Capitol from suburban Edmond from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Sponsors of the rally include the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest labor union and affiliate of the NEA, the School Boards Association, Rural Oklahoma Schools, United Urban Schools Association, the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Associate, the state Association for Career and Technical Education and the state Parent Teachers Association.

The groups joined forces in the Oklahoma Education Coalition and have actively promoted the rally for months.

One system not taking the day off to boost the rally numbers is the Oklahoma City Public School District, the state’s largest. Interim School Superintendent Dave Lopez says he does not think it wise to lose another day of instructional time after this winter’s frequent closures.

The teachers’ union, school districts and superintendents groups will not have the day entirely to themselves.

Democratic politicians who do not make the stage for the big rally intend to have their own event to express solidarity.

From the conservative end of the street, policy analysts with Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma and OCPA will hold a joint news media briefing soon after the union rally ends.

You may contact Pat at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com .