Early childhood education overfunded

The 1889 Institute recently published a paper proposing some ways that Oklahoma’s school funding formulas can be simplified by reducing the number of categories by which students are classified and counted.

According to the paper, Oklahoma’s funding system inflates student counts in each school district according to certain student characteristics in addition to various district characteristics mainly based on size and student counts.

The Institute’s paper proposes the elimination of several categories and that others be restructured. Three potential reform scenarios are shown, using 10 sample districts to compare the scenarios. These scenarios, based on the 2016-17 school year, assume the total amount of money in the system does not change. However, changing the formulas redistributes that money among school districts.

“I thought it was especially interesting that, in only one scenario the Oklahoma City district would lose formula funding, but Tulsa would lose in all three,” said Dr. Byron Schlomach, economist and Director of the 1889 Institute. He explained that this is because of the relatively high student counts Tulsa claims in the gifted and economically disadvantaged categories, two weights recommended for reduction or elimination. Tulsa claims 50 percent more gifted students than Oklahoma City.

“For me, the most interesting insight in the paper is the fact that Oklahoma arguably overfunds early childhood and gifted education, not to mention that the number of economically disadvantaged students is greatly overstated in the funding system,” said Vance Fried, senior fellow of the 1889 Institute and coauthor of the paper.

The following points are made in the paper:

1) Compared to private school pricing patterns, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are overfunded while high school is underfunded;

2) Oklahoma is one of only 9 states that begins compulsory education at age 5;

3) Based on federal demographic data, it is impossible that the claimed 64 percent of students in Oklahoma’s public schools are from households with incomes below 185 percent of poverty, and,

4) While experts say that between 3 and 10 percent of students might be gifted, 12 percent in Oklahoma are claimed as gifted for funding purposes – this reduces resources available to standard programming by $15 million to $65 million.