Budget & Tax , Education

Michael Carnuccio | July 24, 2015

Free Market Friday: Win-win for education

Michael Carnuccio

Some Oklahomans were disappointed this year when state lawmakers gave common education a standstill budget. They say public education is not adequately funded; a standstill means per-student spending will decrease.

“There has never been enough revenue for public education, and there never will be,” a local superintendent said.

That’s unreasonable in a world of finite tax revenues with alternative uses. Besides, the state Department of Education said, Oklahoma’s total and per-pupil funding for the 2014 school year were at all-time highs.

What matters is not how much we spend on education; it’s how we spend it.

Let’s think through this, using the latest data from the Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.

If there are 18 students in your child’s classroom multiplied by $8,687 (Oklahoma’s per-student expenditure), that means $156,366 is spent in that classroom.

The teacher is making $44,285.

Where is the other $112,081 going?

Granted, schools need administrators and cafeteria workers and need to pay the electric bill. Even so, I ask the business-savvy readers of this newspaper to consider whether perhaps there’s too much overhead here.

According to the data that Oklahoma reports to the U.S. Department of Education, from 1998 to 2011 Oklahoma’s school district administration grew by 49 percent – while the student population grew by only 6 percent!

Next, let’s consider this point that a standstill budget coupled with an increase in student enrollment will result in lower per-pupil funding.

“When you have a flat number and a growing student population,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said, “it will ultimately mean fewer dollars per student.”

That’s true. But guess what else is true?

If you have a flat number and a declining student population, that means more dollars per student.

So if we want to boost per-pupil spending and relieve overcrowding in the public schools, let’s give parents a Nevada-style education savings account worth, say, $5,000 per pupil. Students get an ESA with $5,000 in state aid, but they leave the local and federal money in the school district.

In other words, students get to choose an education that meets their unique needs – and per-pupil spending increases in the public schools. That’s what we call a win-win.

Michael Carnuccio

Former OCPA President

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