Monday, April 02, 2018

Oklahoma's Educational Funding Problem Is Real

Oklahoma's teachers are heading to the state capital in Oklahoma City to protest state government's lack of educational funding over the past three decades. Many of the sharpest, most dedicated people I know are public school teachers. They have a difficult, often thankless job. In my estimation, Oklahoma teachers do need additional state funding to make their classrooms conducive to learning and their careers capable of supporting a family. In their shoes, most Oklahomans would not do differently than what Oklahoma teachers are doing today.

I also know many politicians in Oklahoma and have great respect for their dedication to our state. One, a former speaker of the house, recently showed me the state "checkbook register." Similar to a household budget, the state keeps a simple summary of annual expenses and revenue. It's stunning to see that the vast majority expenses for the state of Oklahoma are federally mandated subsidies for medical care and food. Oklahoma state government spends 39% of its budget on health and social services and 21% on education. Next time you drive by a nursing home or hospital, remember that Oklahoma's state government is spending billions on health care and social services for the poor and needy.

I'm not advocating for or against our state welfare subsidies. I'm just pointing out that for every classroom requiring funding, there's a sick, dying, or hungry person in Oklahoma for whom the state is responsible according to the federal government. Sometimes the medical bills for one person's weekly stay in the hospital take more from the Oklahoma treasury than one educational classroom takes annually.

In looking at the state's checkbook register, it's clear that almost every state agency funded by state revenue (e.g., taxes) has seen little or no increase in funding over the past two decades due to skyrocketing health care costs. Unlike the federal government, Oklahoma's state constitution requires the annual budget to balance.

Oklahoma politicians are not malicious. On the contrary, most politicians I know in Oklahoma are good, capable men and women. But they can't do what Houdini did. They can't make revenue appear in the state treasury by magic. They must either increase taxes or cut expenses.

That's why all Oklahoma state agencies are suffering.

For example, every district attorney's office in Oklahoma shows a net decrease in per capita revenue over the past two decades, though there has been an increase in workload. Likewise, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has more inmates than ever, but the department's budget shows a net decrease in per capita revenue. The same pattern is seen in almost every state department and agency in Oklahoma.

The state checkbook register shows that the one area of huge increase during the past two decades is health care costs. The state treasury spends hundreds of millions more annually for health care costs for the indigent in 2018 than it did in 1990. These costs include long-term care (nursing homes), critical care (hospitals), and programs for preventative medical care.

Oklahoma's health care costs have put our state agencies into crisis mode. There's not enough money to go around. And there are no easy answers. On this day when many on social media are blaming either politicians or teachers, I'd like to propose that neither is to blame.

We have a moral issue.

The federal government, which is over twenty trillion dollars in debt, is mandating that a state - which by constitutional law cannot go into debt - completely fund the rising health care costs for the needy.

The state of Oklahoma has only four options:
1. Oklahoma can change the state constitution and put today's expenses on the backs of our children and grandchildren as does the federal government. 
2. Oklahoma can increase taxes on every Oklahoman to increase revenue to pay for rising health care costs for the poor and indigent and adequately fund state agencies.
3. We can audit the rolls of those receiving health care and welfare subsidies and raise the floor of qualification for such subsidies, an option that can only occur in 2019 when Obama care mandates end.
4. We can privatize state agencies and/or reduce the size of state agencies.
The first option is immoral.

The second option is difficult because Oklahomans voted for an initiative petition in the early 1990's that made it exceedingly difficult for politicians to raise taxes (e.g., a super-majority vote is required).

The third option is coming. Oklahoma, the most conservative state in the union, does not carefully audit the health care rolls, something that even the state of Illinois does, to ensure those receiving state funds actually should receive them. The state budget by 2020 should reflect increased revenue through a more careful audit of Oklahoma's health care rolls.

The fourth option is a political nightmare. It could happen, but it requires leadership on the local and state level. Innovative change usually occurs out of necessity.

Today as the teachers gather in Oklahoma, this Oklahoman understands that neither the teachers nor the politicians are the bad guys.

The federal government is playing a different ballgame than we do in Oklahoma:
The feds propose what they can't pay, mandate what they can't manage, and force what they can't fund. 
At least we in Oklahoma balance our budget.

And like families who must make tough decisions when the bank account shows there's little money left, the state of Oklahoma is facing some tough times.


Rex Ray said...


Does anyone see the elephant in the room? Your post list him 6 times: “HEALTH CARE COST”!
Our medical society has dollars for eyeballs. Their gravy train is Medicare.

Case in point: I was in a doctor’s office 30 minutes for the removal of a blood-clot in my leg. Medicare was to paid 80% and I was to pay 20%. I paid $140 but refused to pay his $3,200 bill.
Months went by with him saying, Medicare paid their part; you have to pay yours. I finally told him, “If I get another bill, I’m talking to a lawyer.”
Haven’t heard from him in a year.

Wade Burleson said...


Thanks for illustrating my point so beautifully.

Anonymous said...

It's indicative of a deeper systemic problem: Fed and state gov't where it has no responsibility to be in the first place - namely, in control of education or health care.

True, there are still good people in a bad system, but the system(s) will eventually destroy the people. Throwing aspirin at a clogged valve/artery will only suffice for a short time when radical, open heart surgery is the only viable option.


stevenstarkmusic said...

Wade - appreciate the post in support of teachers and the realistic need to raise taxes to support the humans rights of healthcare and education. And of course we should make sure those dollars are spent wisely.

But as you know, the federal debt is a completely different animal than a state debt. The federal government has to run a debt or there wouldn’t be any private net savings in existence. The state is comparable to a household or a business, the federal government requires a meta level shift in thinking as it creates and destroys money. It doesn’t actually have a “debt” at all, in any meaningful sense.

Thanks for supporting education!

Christiane said...

When a curriculum mandates teaching from certain materials and those materials are NOT commpletely available to students,
any high-stakes testing IS an immoral burden to put on students . . .

And the consequences of that immoral high-stakes testing done without proper support are consequences that can affect the future of those students.

IF the schools who have not been properly provided with study materials needed for high-stakes testing are targeted as 'low performing' by a state that has failed to provide needed materials for these schools,
you have an extended moral problem: and it DOES turn 'political' and those schools can be pointed out as 'low performing' based on the state's maltreatment of the schools that the state let down. YES, there are some teachers who will go to h3ll and back to provide extra materials for their students at their own expense and on their own time . . . but not all teachers have the personal resources to accomplish this. Example: a principal mandates that every science teacher provide for every student to do a full scientific experiment to present on a tri-board at a parent-teachers meeting as a check-off of 'hands-on' understanding of the Scientific Method. Well, I did it. I bought triboards for every student. I bought them materials if they did not have them at home (they were to ASK their parents' permission to use home materials). I paid for art supplies that the school did not have and I took the students through the Scientific Method step by step and fully supported each of them (their parents had my phone number for consult purposes).

It cost me a fortune. I didn't mind. I had 'resources' . . . but when other teachers on our staff couldn't do what I did because they didn't have personal 'resources', and the head of the School system for Middle School Science praised my students as superior, I flatly pointed out to her that the school system needed to support ALL of the students by making sure that their teachers had the proper supplies, or the funds to get those supplies IF the school system REQUIRED the teachers to 'perform' at that level of provision of materials to accomplish a required goal.

Moral Issue ?
you bet

it also extends into areas of 'contempt for the poor' and 'de facto segregation' and don't get me started on the rest, but my students who succeeded WERE poor, and not 'white', and given the proper materials and support, were able to win awards at the school systems' science forum, with several tri-board exhibits being entered into the state's middle-school level competition . . . .

Moral I$$ue . . . yes, it costs money for supplies for 'hands-on' science ed.
I spent a lot out of pocket without re-imbursement. I did my job for the sake of my students . . . but not because of the state, no, . . . in spite of the state.

Angry? I am furious for those students who were not supported, and for their teachers who did their best with what they had . . . . but enough of my screed.

For goodness sake, call a halt to high-stakes testing in any state where teachers and schools are not fully supplied and funded to prepare students to take those tests. The human costs are too high as competent people are denied a fair chance to succeed.

I call on states to do the right thing for the students and level the playing field.
No money? Stop the testing, then.
Sorry, no books, no supplies? Stop the high-stakes testing programs and use THAT MONEY to help the ones who need support.

Christiane said...

Sorry for screed, WADE.
I needed to vent, but still, maybe this is not the appropriate place, so sorry.

Wade Burleson said...


I have a degree in business with a minor in macroeconomics.

I am not a Keynesian economist, but rather follow the principles of the Austrian model.

We may agree on education but probably disagree on the necessity of government debt.



Debbie Kaufman said...

Christiane: I think you have it pretty on target and I for one enjoyed your rant. Your rant is my rant.

Debbie Kaufman said...

BTW: My oldest daughter is an Oklahoma teacher.

Christiane said...

I did not know your daughter was a teacher. She should come and comment also. When I think about the way resources are slanted towards schools in wealthier districts, I do get into rant-mode and will post about it if smoke is coming out of my ears . . .

children just need a chance and to know that they have the support of those who care about them . . . then 'miracles' can happen and the child from the project may outperform many who come from better circumstances

I just want the children to have a chance, Debbie.

You must be proud of your daughter and her fellow teachers . . . imagine not having a raise in ten years . . . . it most certainly is time the state behaved responsibly towards the education of its students

I never crossed a teacher picket line in NJ when I subbed when my children were young. I couldn't have done it.

Thanks for sharing the rant, Debbie. Hope you had a good Easter.

Rex Ray said...


On the front page: Durant teachers join statewide walkout

Thousands of teachers and state employees across Oklahoma staged a walkout Monday at the state’s Capitol in Oklahoma City to protest for public school funding and teacher’s wages.

Teachers in Durant stood in the rain. We’re here for the children to have needed books. Libraries have no funding. Around 200 school districts across the state closed for the day.

On March 29, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a major tax hike that will increase teacher’s pay over $6,100 annually.

Lawmakers approved a $474 million tax hikes. Tax rate on oil and gas wells increase from 2% to 5% for the first three years and rising to 7%. Increase 3 cents/gallon on gas and 6 cents/gallon on diesel.

Anonymous said...

Education as a whole is going to go through a massive change. And it will be bottom up, not top down. Public school has basically abandoned serious “academics” as their main focus. Right now a student could utillize Khan Acadamy K-12 and be much better educated than the avg high school graduate as they present the best of the best in education. Watch for the same in post secondary education. They can access platforms and utilize the best in each field out there to teach on in-depth subjects. Already people are accessing such platforms and meeting periodically for hands on instruction. Watch for more apprenticeships with labs, etc. See Bret Weinstein and others. Heterodox Academy. It’s here but I think will become mainstream. It’s necessary. And cheaper.

Christiane said...

Any government which balances its budget on the backs of school children is not investing in its future.

If you go to Scandinavia, children there are treated so much better, with both parents getting paid time-off to care for them when they are infants, with hot meals for lunch served at schools without charge, and with some of the highest evaluation results of academic success . . . . and training for jobs is also considered a part of education . . . .

the taxes in Scandinavian countries? enormous . . . but the children are healthy and well-educated

I guess people have to decide what it is that they value most when choosing how to relegate resources. . . . but the children have no 'voice' and worn-out aged texts, school buildings in need of major repairs have taken their toll on the young.

A question I don't really want to ask, this:
Has any of the lack of funding for public education in certain states been the result of virulent political campaigns against 'public' education? Because when our nation first was being built up, a newly-formed community or town always built a Church and a school.

The last years that I taught, the outer wall of our classroom building was separating from the building . . . engineers had to temporarily 'strap' the wall 'to' the building but it was still unsafe and a 'warning system' was installed to let us know to vacate IF the wall began to move . . .

the school system and the state realized this was unsafe, and the building was torn down and a new school was built after I retired . . . it's true about the deficiencies, good people

As for the teachers who are in OK and KY, they are ALSO marching for better and safer school facilities and for needed supplies and educational materials for students; the teachers are not just selfishly marching for their own benefit, no. I think they are behaving in a very honorable way for the sake of the children. I hope the states listen and are open to making positive changes in future.

Anonymous said...

I will never understand why some people are against the working poor having school choice and think they are helping them. It’s cruel.

Anonymous said...

Public, i.e., government, schools are funded by theft by taxation and populated by kidnapping by mandatory attendance. Immoral?

All the walking teachers can be easily replaced. How many applications do the local school boards receive each year? Why are the walkers not being fired for violation of contract?

Too little money? Cut the bureaucratic bloat. School systems are not immune to Parkinson's law. Cut those things that have nothing to do with education. Start with the GASP football program.

"At least we in Oklahoma balance our budget." How well would you do if you were not required to? How much is funded through borrowing? How well funded are the state's pension systems for it employees? How many state mandates are pushed to the lower levels of government in Ok.?

The tacit principle at work here: Someone else must pay for what I want.

"We have a moral issue."

Christiane said...

Hello Anonymous,
I believe that parents can legally homeschool their children, so the 'mandatory' attendance thing doesn't hold up UNLESS a child is frequently absent without reason . . . . IF a child has medical issues and frequent absences, a public school system can and will provide a visiting teacher for the child.

Occasionally, you find families that abuse the homeschool privilege . . . such as that dreadful family that abused their many children for years and were finally caught out and imprisoned.

At least, in the public school system, there is a better chance for an abused child to be noticed and to have the information forwarded to the proper authorities . . . . so I don't see the public school system as 'kidnappers' OR 'babysitters' as some parents see the system (sigh).

We all pay taxes. Most American people have no problem supporting education, the military, law enforcement, community services (trash-collecting, etc.), and infra-structure maintainance, etc. . . . .

for those with an abject hatred for the common good, I fear for them being a part of any community as usually there is some kind of mental or emotional problem that may turn so negative that the person is either a danger to himself/herself or to others who are innocent . . . . it happens . . . all that 'negative' must go somewhere eventually and many times it takes innocent people with it . . . God have mercy on us all together

Anonymous said...

According to the New Testament, anointing in positions of leadership is different from that of the Old Testament. if the Holy Spirit appoints some to be pastors, teachers, etc. obviously everyone is anointed according to their gifting. If a pastor is brutish and abuses his power obviously he does not have this gift. Also the qualification for being elders in I Timothy I would think could be reviewed annually by the congregation.

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