Ray Carter | February 21, 2022

School transparency measure clears Oklahoma Senate

Ray Carter

Legislation that would require public reporting on administrative spending in public schools, including a comparison of academic outcomes and spending in comparable districts, has won easy passage out of the Oklahoma Senate.

Senate Bill 1108, by Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, clarifies the duties of the School Finance Review Commission.

That commission already exists in state law, but it is required to report on a broadly worded “review of all matters related to school finance,” including “teacher compensation, benefits, and administration.”

SB 1108 would impose more specific reporting requirements on the commission, including breaking school administrative costs into a separate category.

The legislation asks the commission to report on administrative costs “including administrative functions that may be shared between school districts,” “opportunities for school districts to be operated in a cost-effective manner,” and “variances in per-pupil and administrative expenditures among school districts with comparable enrollment, demographics, and outcomes on statewide assessments.” It also calls on the commission to provide information on “expenditures that are not directly or sufficiently related to improving student outcomes.”

“This will help with school-finance transparency,” said Bergstrom, an Adair Republican who previously worked as a schoolteacher.

Although the commission already exists in current law, its first report is not required prior to Dec. 31, 2023.

Several Democrats objected to the measure.

“I’m still at a loss for what we are hoping to uncover with including and designating that school districts must report items that are talking about expenses not directly related to improving student outcomes,” said Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City.

“Since they’re supposed to be looking into all matters dealing with school finance, when they’re doing that, if they run across something that is not directly or sufficiently related to improving student outcomes, that is absolutely something that we’re going to want to know about so that we might be able to do something to correct that,” Bergstrom responded.

Hicks also objected to requiring the commission to review spending differences among comparable school districts.

“Are we charging the commission to tie those financial expenditures to standardized tests?” Hicks said.

Bergstrom said there is value in comparing schools of “similar size, similar demographics,” because it can highlight best practices.

Hicks then suggested the bill could “undo competition as it relates to per-pupil investments for student outcomes.”

Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, objected to changing the law that guides the commission before the group has issued its first report, and said the proposed language would impose transparency “on items that are already transparent, that we already look at, that school districts report every year.”

SB 1108 passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 39-9 vote that broke along party lines with Democrats in opposition. It now proceeds to the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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