Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dollars to the Classroom Looked at by Lawmakers

OKLAHOMA CITY – With years of watching an expanding percentage of budget dollars spent on education costs, legislators are looking at how to get more dollars to the classroom for direct instructional expenditures where they belong.
Education currently makes up well over half of appropriations statewide, noted state Rep. David Brumbaugh, who today sponsored an interim study on the subject.
Rep. David Brumbaugh
R-Broken Arrow
Although Oklahoma is a relatively low-income state, Brumbaugh said statistics indicate Oklahoma still ranks high in spending on education as a percentage of income.
“Oklahomans spend $5.4 billion on education, or $8,411 per student a year according to the Friedman Foundation, which doesn’t include the dedicated revenues that are going to schools that don’t go through the appropriations process,” said Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow. “That alone indicates we need greater transparency and accountability on actual costs. Furthermore, funding for things like debt service, CareerTech, bursars, pensions, or depreciation on buildings and assets are not currently included in those figures; I believe that data should be made easily accessible to the public. Overall, costs continue to go up, yet in many school districts less than half of expenditures are getting to the classroom.”
 It is estimated that only 51 percent of state public education employees are actually teachers, Brumbaugh noted. The rest is compromised of support services, administration, and other services.
“The alarming situation is that non instructional costs continue to rise yet we are still seeing flat results over the years with all our reforms,” Brumbaugh said. “In Tulsa County alone we have seen only a 6.9 percent rise in student population yet we have seen a 45.4 percent rise in school employees over a 10-year time period according to the County Assessors Office. Yet we are flat or seeing diminishing results with 28 percent of students dropping out of school while those who do go on to higher education are needing more and more remediation in basic subjects. That is not a very good report card. We need to get dollars to the classroom where they belong.”

The solution to this growing problem, Brumbaugh suggests, lies in looking at the whole process and overhauling how the state spends education dollars to be more effective at both state and local levels.
“We have to ask ourselves are we privatizing or jobbing out those services that can better be handled by the private sector such as food, medical and janitorial services. That would allow us to cut out certain salaries and benefits in some areas while promoting competitive bidding and increased quality in the process,” he said.
As a member of the Government Modernization and Select Pension Oversight Committees at the state level, Brumbaugh said officials also have to ask the basic business questions everyone in the private sector asks.
“Are we doing enough in employing business analytics to insure we are spending our precious resources effectively?” Brumbaugh said. “We really need to do a better job inquiring into whether we can we realize savings through things such as shared services, better streamlined supply chains, and reining in out-of-control pension costs. Some school districts are doing a good job at trying to reduce facility and utility costs, but others do not and should be asked to do more. It’s just not enough for us as legislators to point our finger at administrative costs and say that’s where the problem is. We need to find real-world business solutions to address the predicament we are in as a state and get more out of our education dollars and get them where they belong. We hope this study will plant those seeds.”

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