Education Needs Reform, Too

The Wall Street Journal recently carried an article by Christopher DeMuth entitled, “The Decline and Fall of Congress.”

One point he makes that tells the difference in how the Democrats get their way and Republicans don’t is the statement, “Group cohesion comes naturally to the Democrats, whose party has been a coalition of government-dependent interest groups.  Each of them tends to favor almost everything the government is doing and simply wants more:  logrolling is easy among members who want more of this in exchange for more of that.  The Republican majority lacks these methods for galvanizing the conservative world view of its members.”

The operative words are “simply wants more.”  If only Oklahoma spent more on education. we would see improvements.

That basically was what Marilyn Inhofe Tucker wrote in the Tulsa World opinion piece entitled, “Our Children Deserve Excellence.”

Ms. Tucker begins by remembering her days as a student at Eliot Elementary School and later at Edison High School where her 1964 graduating class had 33 National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists.

After leaving Oklahoma and then returning, Ms. Tucker expected to find public education in Tulsa as good as she remembered it only to find “the ability of Oklahoma to value, attract and retain quality teaches is on a steady and frightening decline.”

Ms. Tucker says, “I am outraged every time I read that a tax cut of 25 percent (about $28 a person) will go into action in January.”  She also laments the astronomical salaries provided football coaches.

Here are the facts.  The state is not alone in funding public education.  In Oklahoma, the three basic sources of school district revenue are local and county, state and federal.  Total revenue for 2013-2014 was $5,751,751,140.  The state provided 48 percent, followed by local with 40.3 percent and federal at 11.7 percent according to the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.

Total revenues increased for Oklahoma’s school districts by $127,723,355.

Teacher salaries are not the responsibility of the state, but the local school board.  The state sets a minimum salary.  Oklahoma is short 1,000 teachers out of a total pool of 42,000 teachers. The shortfall has now been filled by alternative and emergency certifications.

Even now OU President David Boren is proposing a one-cent sales tax to be used for education. This might sound good, but it still represents a constituency that “simply wants more.”  The $650 million raised will not guarantee our outcomes will improve.

I would favor the sales tax if it came with reforms. Most folks getting a check from education oppose reforms because they might lose that check.

Oklahoma currently has 517 individual school districts.  The average population supporting the school district is 7,323, which means many will need more state aid paid by the larger counties.

Actually 131 of the 517 districts have fewer than 250 students yet they have all the administration with the average superintendent earning over $85,000 a year.

Oklahoma could easily get by with 131 fewer school districts and their related expenses.

Another idea would be to reward schools which increased their parental involvement numbers.  Almost all low-performing schools had little parental involvement.  Oklahoma today cannot fill 85,000 jobs because our citizens are either uneducated or can’t pass drug tests.

Today it is not enough to simply want more.