Staff | March 27, 2019

A closer look at education spending in Oklahoma


Let’s be honest: the goal in education is not to spend the most. Actually, the goal should be to get the most for what we spend. Still, it takes money to run a school or other educational program.

Some unions and other political groups claim that Oklahoma is “dead last” in school funding in our region, even after big tax hikes and pay raises in 2018.

Oklahoma spending is notoriously fragmented, with many “funding silos” that make it easy to play games with the numbers. Those demanding more tax increases usually leave out some of what taxpayers actually pay for teacher benefits, like the off-the-top state taxpayer contributions to the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System which totaled, in fiscal year 2016, $315,672,000.

What’s the truth? Below are some numbers so you can make up your own mind. Data are from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Per student spending

U.S. Average$13,458
Regional Average$13,155
New Mexico$12,076

*Oklahoma's total spending per student figure includes the 2018 funding increase. Please note that other states may have adjusted funding as well.

But what is going on in those states? It turns out, local funds play an important role.

Local funding for public schools in Oklahoma significantly trails both the regional average (by nearly 6 percentage points) and the national average (by nearly 7 percentage points). This disparity is significant. Holding all other funding constant, if local areas in Oklahoma increased the amount of local funding to public schools by 7 percent, it would mean an additional $438 million ($495 million when adjusted for cost of living) for public schools.

Data below are from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Revenue sources as a share of total revenue

New Mexico70.04%16.23%13.73%
U.S. Average44.79%46.96%8.25%
Regional Average43.81%46.09%10.10%

One factor behind Oklahoma’s wild swings in tax revenues and low rate of local contributions is our relatively low property taxes. Local revenues tend to come from property taxes and be much more stable and reliable than state taxes that swing back and forth with economic conditions. Oklahoma has the lowest property taxes in our region, on a per person basis.

Regional property tax per capita

New Mexico$7685th

Source: The Tax Foundation, FY 2016

It also matters how much money actually gets to the classroom, rather than being spent on state or local administration or other programs (like travel and unneeded buildings).

Categorizing how money gets spent is notoriously tricky, but the numbers below are from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Instruction spending as a share of education spending

U.S. Average60.90%
Regional Average58.03%
New Mexico56.89%

You can search and view more, including details for your own school district, using OCPA’s Data Tools. And you can use the form below to stay informed by signing up for OCPA updates.

Finally, while money matters, what matters most are results. Many teachers leave the profession not for higher pay, but because of frustration with a system that fails to empower them. School districts can choose to waive some state mandates, but few actually do. OCPA works to give both teachers and parents more power—in the form of more choices. We believe more opportunities for teachers and for students is the best way to get the best results for our investment in education.

All data have been adjusted for cost-of-living differences using the Cost of Living Data Series by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC).


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