Curtis Shelton | February 17, 2023

Important facts to know about Oklahoma education

Curtis Shelton

Oklahoma’s 2023 legislative session is underway and already the education issue is prominent. Here are some important facts to know about our state’s public education system.


Total spending on education in fiscal year 2022 was just over $9 billion. With enrollment at 698,577, per-pupil expenses thus come to $12,967. This is different from an oft-cited “official” per-pupil expenses number used by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), for one major reason: the OSDE excludes more than $1.5 billion in spending from its official per-pupil expenses number.

Why? Because in 2017, HB 1202 was enacted, declaring that per-pupil expenses “shall not include” some expenses. Specifically, all spending categorized as facilities acquisition and construction and other outlays, primarily debt-service expenses. The OSDE even releases two separate expense reports, one titled “With Exclusions” and the other “No Exclusions.” In 2022, those two categories amounted to $1.65 billion and drops per-pupil expenses by $2,361. OCPA uses the total spending number because we believe it's disingenuous to act like billions of dollars spent on education should be ignored. Taxpayers could rightly ask: “If it doesn’t count, can we have that money back?”

Teacher Pay

The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics show Oklahoma’s average teacher salary to be $54,256 in 2021. Oklahoma’s Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) published a report on teacher compensation in 2021 that ranked Oklahoma teachers first in the region when adjusted for cost of living and tax burden. Saying that Oklahoma’s teacher pay is number one in the region is not the same as saying teachers don’t deserve a raise, but hyperbole around the issue does nothing to help our teachers or students. There are ways to raise teachers’ salaries while also focusing on student outcomes.

Student Performance

Statewide only 24 percent of Oklahoma students were proficient when looking at all grades and all subjects tested in 2021. That is down from 35 percent in 2019. School shutdowns doubtless had an impact on scores, but performance has been trending down since 2015. Oklahoma ranked 29th and tested above the national average in fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, but since then scores have fallen dramatically and Oklahoma now ranks 46th in fourth-grade reading. The same is true for fourth-grade math scores; Oklahoma ranked 26th in 2015 and now ranks 40th.

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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