How Much Will You Pay for Better Schools?

By David Postic

Oklahoma Education

 


Oklahoma does not value education. Our spending shows it. Our outcomes show it. The number of teachers flocking to other states for better pay and better schools (or, in Oklahoma, leaving the profession entirely) show it. Each year, it seems like the Legislature keeps cutting and cutting and cutting the education budget as our classroom size keeps growing and growing and growing. Each year, we complain that the Legislature needs to get their act together, that it needs to better fund our schools. And each year, we are absolutely right. But it’s also easy to complain; it’s tougher to conceptualize. What would better education look like in Oklahoma? What would it cost?

The Problem

First things first: let’s go ahead and admit that we are not funding our schools like we should. Because we aren’t. Over the past 10 years, Common Education funding in Oklahoma has increased a mere $78,680,179, not adjusted for inflation ($2,348,041,255 in FY 2007 compared with $2,426,721,434 in FY 2017). That might sound like a lot of money, but just wait. Adjusting for inflation (because we can), annual spending on Common Ed has actually decreased to the tune of $389,722,187 (or ~14%). To put that in comparison, the amount of money the Legislature has cut from Common Ed (let’s not even get into the amount it’s cut from Higher Ed) could pay the entire Thunder payroll (pre-salary cap increase) for 5 years. It could pay the Red Sox payroll for 2 years. Or it could buy 121,550 of these super nice toilets to symbolize where the Legislature is throwing our education funding. It’s that much money.

But to be fair, a decrease in funding, by itself, is not necessarily bad. If we have fewer students, then per-pupil funding stays the same, right? Theoretically, yes, dear reader, you would be right. Only that’s not the case. Because we don’t have fewer students. We have more students. We have many more students. To be precise, as of April 2016, Oklahoma is home to 692,670 students, which is a 50,999 student (or ~8%) increase from 2007. (We don’t have enrollment totals for FY 2017, so the comparison of enrollment to funding is a bit off, but it’s close enough.) Funding has gone down; enrollment has gone up. Uh oh.

What this means is that our per-pupil, inflation-adjusted state funding for Common Ed has decreased by $1,761 over the last 10 years ($5,264 in 2007 to $3,503 in 2017), or about 33%. Keep in mind that state funding is only about 45% of total funding for public education; another 45% is local funding from property taxes, bonds, etc.; and 10% comes from the federal government (these numbers are slightly different in Oklahoma, but you get the idea). So at first blush, a decrease in spending may seem like it has a silver lining, what with all the tax money we don’t have to pay and whatnot (more on this later). But because a decrease in state funding means that local funding has to pick up the slack, you will end up paying about the same amount in taxes—and some people will even have to pay more—if we are to maintain constant levels of funding.

Of course, that’s the problem: we aren’t maintaining constant levels of funding to Common Ed. We are siphoning it off to pay for tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. That’s a judgment call our state Legislature has made. And it’s wrong. Their judgment is wrong. They have decided that it is more politically expedient to sacrifice the potential of us students than to make the difficult call to halt tax breaks or—God forbid—raise taxes. They have decided that our students don’t deserve better. That our teachers don’t deserve better. That our state doesn’t deserve better. And they are absolutely 100% wrong.

The Solution

But I digress. I’m not just here to complain (although I’m definitely here to do that); I’m here to offer some solutions. Mostly, though, I want to quantify (in very brief and simple terms) what it will take to better our public schools. As a result, my focus is on revenue and does not cover qualitative improvements to Oklahoma education.

Let’s start with the obvious: Oklahoma hates taxes. Like, a lot. Like OU hates Texas. Like Donald Trump hates facts. Like everyone hates Ramsay Bolton. That much. As a result, we cut taxes a lot. How much do these tax breaks cost, you ask? Great question.

Exceedingly low tax rates for horizontal drilling will cost us in the neighborhood of $379 million in 2016 (and that’s just horizontal drilling tax breaks, not to mention other tax breaks for the oil and gas industry), while wind power credits are expected to cost another $133 million. I point out these two tax breaks for special treatment because—as every Oklahoma knows—oil and wind are two things that this state does not have in short supply. So it begs the question why we need such high tax breaks at all? Of course, a little incentive is fine. But our tax rate on horizontal drilling, for instance, is well below other states, and it’s not like oil companies are going to stop coming to Oklahoma—we have all the oils. As State Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger has said, a fiscally responsible policymaker “needs to seriously consider at what level government should incentivize something that is now standard practice.” Even walking back these two tax breaks a tiny bit could bring in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. Phasing them out entirely (which, for horizontal drilling, would merely return to the ordinary 7% gross-production rate) would be half a billion dollars in the bank.

But these corporate tax breaks (and many more) pale in comparison to the lost revenue from cuts to the state income tax rate. Since the top rate (which applies to income above $7,200; the first $7,200 is taxed at rates between 1/2% to 4%) has been cut from 6.65% in 2004 to 5% in 2016, Oklahoma’s annual revenue loss is $1.022 billion. Annual. Billion. Is. What was that really big thing we had this year? A budget deficit? And how much was it? $1.3 billion? An extra billion dollars really would have helped with that. Too bad.

Now, tax cuts are nice. I like money. Money is good. Money buys me things like Netflix subscriptions and raisins and trips to Harry Potter World. But how much money did these tax cuts actually give us? And are they really even worth the cost? As of 2016, about 72% of the benefit from these cuts (about $735 million in 2016) goes to the wealthiest 20% of households (those making $246,000 a year). The wealthiest 5% of households ($568,000 a year) get 43% of the benefits. And the wealthiest 1% receive about the same benefit as the bottom 80%. The Oklahoma Policy Institute put this disparity in dollar terms:

The median Oklahoma household with annual income of $49,800 has seen its taxes reduced by $228, compared to a $15,519 cut for the average household in the top 1 percent (income of $476,600 and above). Households making less than $21,700 — the bottom 20 percent of households — have received an average of just $4 per year from cutting the top rate, since little or none of their income is taxed at the top tax brackets.

But wait, the inequity gets even bigger. When looking at the share of income paid in taxes, the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy has calculated that, in 2015, the poorest 20% of Oklahomans paid 10.5% of their income in state and local taxes compared to just 4.3% paid by the wealthiest 1%, or about 2.4 times as much. The middle 60% paid, on average, 9.3% of their income in taxes, 2.2 times as much as the top 1 percent. In policy terms, this is called a regressive tax system, as it places a larger burden on low-income households than on high-income households.

A billion dollars of lost revenue. Very little money in my pocket. And I pay more of my income than do wealthy people (who, coincidentally, benefit much more than I do from these tax breaks). Remind me why these tax cuts are good again? Oh yeah, because they foster growth and improve the economy. Only there is no evidence to support this. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at 40 years of data and studies on state taxes and economic performance:

The large majority of these studies find that interstate differences in tax levels, including differences in personal income taxes, have little if any effect on relative rates of state economic growth. Of the 15 major studies published in academic journals since 2000 that examined the broad economic effect of state personal income tax levels, 11 found no significant effects and one of the others produced internally inconsistent results.

In fact, four of the five states that have enacted the largest personal income tax cuts in the last five years — Maine, Kansas, Ohio and Wisconsin — have experienced total job growth and personal income growth below the national average since the tax cuts took effect. A recent study by the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution found “neither tax revenues nor top marginal income tax rates bear any stable relation to economic growth rates across states and over time.” Yet Oklahoma continues to cut its tax rates despite the fact that we cannot afford to do so. And education has suffered because of it.

So how are we to proceed? What could we do with the money even if we had it? This is where qualitative analysis comes in, and to a certain extent a mere increase in funding won’t necessarily improve outcomes. And outcomes are, to a large degree, what are most important. But money helps. And it’s easy to imagine what would be possible with an extra billion or two in funds available for education.

With an extra billion dollars, we could give our 46,571 (FTE) teachers a $21,000 raise (or at least give them the $3,338 raise they need to meet the regional average). We could roll back the 30% cut to school lunch matching programs. We could replace the $38 million cut from support for public school activities. Or we could actually buy textbooks for students. We could do so much to address the problems we have and to make Oklahoma a better place for both students and teachers. With an extra billion dollars, we could spend $1,443 more per student than we currently do, which would move us from 47th in the nation for per-pupil spending all the way up to 33rd. Those are good things. Those are things we could do. If only we had the money…

Conclusion

And we do have the money, at least in theory. There was a time when we weren’t losing a billion dollars a year in income tax cuts; there was a time we weren’t giving half a billion dollars away to energy companies. And guess what? We survived. Not cutting taxes did not kill us. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like paying taxes. And if the Legislature eliminated all of the tax cuts mentioned above, my taxes would go up. Yours would to. But the Legislature can craft policies that minimize the impact on Oklahoma citizens while still providing the revenue we as a state need to function properly. It’s possible.

The politics of crafting those solutions is what seems impossible. Oklahoma is not a place that believes in things raising taxes or making tough political decisions. Politicians need votes to stay in office, and it will be much more difficult to get those votes if they tell their constituents that taxes are going to go up. You might feel less inclined to vote for someone who tells you that. Hell, that would give me pause. But consider this: is there anything we do as a state that is more valuable than education? Is there anything that gives our state’s future more promise? Is there anything that you would say to a child to justify taking away their free or reduced lunch, their textbooks, their teachers, their classrooms, or the educational opportunities?

It will cost us all to make education better in Oklahoma. It will cost us a lot. But our schools will be better for it; our students will be better for it; our future will be better for it. How much am I willing to pay for better schools? As much as it takes.

—–

See this original post on Medium.

Education Links We Love (July 25th, 2014)

Education Reads

Each Friday, we here at Thirty-Eight Minutes post our five favorite education-themed articles from around the web this week. But due to our absence last week, we are going DOUBLE with TEN links this week (queue applause). Alas, we are but five guys with limited time to surf the furthest reaches of the Internet. So, as always, we would love any additional articles worth reading. If you find any, please post them below and share your discoveries with us.

Four Technology Trends Changing Higher Education (Edudemic)

Five U.S. Innovations That American Reformers Ignore (Washington Post)

Meet the 22-Year-Old Who is Closing the Summer Achievement Gap (Atlantic)

Moving Toward a New Model for Education (Edutopia)

Janet Barresi Loses Her Cool* (NewsOK)

University of Oklahoma Offers Debt Forgiveness (Tulsa World)

Classroom Leaves the Syllabus to the Students (NY Times)

5 ‘Dirty Words’ Admissions Offices Should Embrace (Chronicle)

Why is it So Hard to Change How We Teach Math? (Mind Shift)

STEM vs. STEAM: A Look At Half-Brain Teaching (Edudemic)

*Always fun to watch

—–

David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Education Links We Love (July 11th, 2014)

Education Reads

Each Friday, we here at Thirty-Eight Minutes post our five favorite education-themed articles from around the web this week. Alas, we are but five guys with limited time to surf the furthest reaches of the Internet. So, as always, we would love any additional articles worth reading. If you find any, please post them below and share your discoveries with us.

The Hard Part (Huffington Post)

How to Read Education Data Without Jumping to Conclusions (The Atlantic)

Tennessee Moves Away from Test Scores on Teacher Evaluations (Education News)

How a Text Message Could Revolutionize Student Aid (NPR)

Jobs After College: It’s What You Know, Not Where You Go (Education Views)

8 Reasons Teachers Are The Worst

By David Postic

teachers are the worst


Teachers are the worst…

 

1. Teachers don’t have that hard of a job. 

They basically just babysit kids for seven hours a day. Anyone could do that. Never mind that, if we paid them like babysitters, we should be paying them $250,000 per year rather than $44,000.

2. Teachers don’t take care of their classrooms. 

The books are just falling apart, the desks are old and broken, and I have to contribute classroom supplies for my kid every year. Never mind that funding for common education has been cut dramatically over the past decade, and never mind the fact that teachers make do with substandard classroom resources, often using their own money to give their kids a quality educational experience.

3. Teachers indoctrinate my kids with anti-religious nonsense.

If I don’t want my kid learning about evolution, the teacher shouldn’t be allowed to teach evolution. Never mind that teachers are charged with opening minds, exposing children to new worlds of ideas, all the while putting up with hell from parents and special interest groups for teaching a curriculum over which they have little to no control.

4. Teachers complain too much about not getting enough money for their schools.

I don’t even have kids–why should I have to pay my hard earned dollars for someone else’s kids? Never mind the fact that education funding has decreased across the board since the Great Recession; that good school districts often result in greater benefits to everyone living there; and that “kids are the future” and all that jazz.

5. Teachers get off work at 3pm.

Never mind the countless hours they spend grading papers, preparing lesson plans, tutoring students, or pulling all-nighters to get ready for class.

6. Teachers get a three month summer vacation.

Never mind the professional development seminars they attend, the workshops they travel to, the classroom workdays they set aside, the lessons they plan, or even the second jobs they have to work to make ends meet.

7. Teachers complain too much about standardized tests.

Never mind the fact that such tests measure only “low level” thinking processes, take education out of the hands of educators, allow pass-fail rates to be manipulated for political purposes, and radically limit the ability of teachers to adapt to learner differences.

8. Worst of all, though, teachers try too damn hard.

Never mind that they come to work every day not for the meager pay but for a chance to make a kid smile because they understand the world a little bit better than they did before. Never mind that they try to have an impact and make a difference. Never mind that they try to change lives. Never mind that a lot of people don’t support them, don’t listen to them, don’t understand them, and don’t respect them.   …Never mind that teachers try anyway. Because that’s just who teachers are.

Yeah. Teachers are the worst. And we should all want to be like them.

—–

See this post on Thought Catalog.

David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

9 Things You Need to Know About Common Core

By David Postic

 

Common Core standards


 

Recently, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill repealing the Common Core standards for her state. If you’re like me, you may feel as though you missed the boat with understanding everything about Common Core. What is so common about it? What is it the core of? Can I blame Obama for it? At this point, being the supposedly informed adult that you are, it would be almost embarrassing to ask basic questions such as these. But fear not. We have put together a list of Common Core “Need-to-know’s” to get you up to speed:

1. No Child Left Behind and Common Core not the same thing.

The No Child Left Behind Act was passed by Congress in 2001. The Act essentially required states to create assessments in certain skill areas in order to receive federal funding. It expanded the federal role in education through annual testing, annual academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, and funding changes. Although the Act passed with bipartisan support, it has since come under broad criticism for being easily manipulated for political gain, as well as for failing to recognize localized educational concerns. Common Core, however, as explained below, is different in scope and function than No Child Left Behind. Nevertheless, Common Core standards are beginning to replace the state-based testing standards of No Child Left Behind.

2. Common Core was not created by the federal government.

Two nonprofit state groups–The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers–created the Common Core standards back in 2010. Common Core was not a measure of Congress nor the White House nor the Department of Education.

The federal government has, however, promoted Common Core standards. It can waive certain requirements of No Child Left Behind for states who adopt Common Core. It has also tied Race to the Top funding to Common Core implementation to incentivize adoption of the standards.

3. Common Core does not set a national curriculum.

National standards are distinct from a national curriculum; Common Core only establishes national standards. In other words, Common Core only sets what students should know–not how teachers should go about teaching it (that would be a national curriculum). Federal law actually prohibits the Department of Education from interfering in curriculum, which is determined at the state and local level.

4. Common Core only sets standards in two subjects.

Contrary to popular belief, these standards do not cover every school subject. Rather, Common Core only sets forth requirements for Math and Language Arts. For example, here are some of the fifth grade Common Core standards:

Common Core requirements
via Vox.com

5. New standardized tests are being created for Common Core.

This is where a lot of outrage is being directed. Most states that have adopted the Common Core standards have also joined one of two consortia (word of the day) that are working to develop new standardized tests. The idea is that all the states who implement Common Core will use those new standardized tests. Many states are now opposed to this process and choosing instead to write their own tests, in large part because it is a way to pull back from Common Core without opposing it outright.

6. Students currently aren’t doing all that well on Common Core tests.

Common Core test scores
via Vox.com

Only two states, Kentucky and New York, have assessed how their students are doing under the new Common Core standards. As the chart below shows, scores in both states have dramatically decreased. There are a lot of variables that go into this result. First and foremost, the Common Core tests are more difficult than the old ones, so naturally the initial results will not be good. Additionally, both Kentucky and New York are using tests they created (specialized for their states) rather than a test created by one of the consortia. So it is difficult to tell if these results are just localized to those states, or if other states will see similar test scores.

7. However, the overall impact of Common Core may be positive.

One of the driving forces behind Common Core was the desire to make students college-ready and decrease the number of remedial courses students needed to take in college. Early evidence shows that Common Core is achieving this result in Kentucky, which is sort of the poster child for Common Core since it was one of the first states to implement the new standards. In Kentucky, the percentage of students who needed remedial math courses has dropped 38% since 2009. For language arts, only half as many students need remedial courses.

8. Common Core is not really a partisan issue.

Surprisingly, this is not a strictly Democrats vs. Republicans issue. There are some Republicans that support Common Core (e.g. the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Jeb Bush, the Fordham Institute, etc.), while there are others (such as the Tea Party) that do not. On the Democratic side, the Obama administration supports Common Core, while various teachers unions and other liberal groups are hesitant to support it based on concerns about implementation, student privacy, and a continued focus on standardized tests.

9. Many teachers support Common Core or something like it.

While there are certainly many opponents to Common Core, there is also a large group in support of then new standards. Edutopia compiled a series of polls, showing that many teachers support Common Core or something like it:

  • 75 percent of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) supports Common Core.
  • 75 percent of the National Education Association (NEA) supports it.
  • A survey of 20,000 teachers conducted by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that 73 percent of teachers who teach math, English language arts, science and/or social studies in Common Core states support the new standards.
  • A recent survey of principals conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) found that 80 percent of principals support it.
  • The majority of superintendents, too, support Common Core (although that might be a turnoff if you live in Oklahoma). A Gallup/Education Week poll of superintendents showed that somewhere between 58 and 75 percent support the new standards.

(It should be noted that some of these associations–the NEA, for example–are fairly partisan organizations. Moreover, the Gates Foundation has long been an advocate of Common Core standards. I find these surveys reliable, but as a general rule you should always research the people conducting polls to figure out if you can believe everything they say.)

So there you have it–the basics of Common Core.

Hopefully you know more now than you did five minutes ago. While the purpose of this article is to inform rather than persuade, it is difficult to remove our personal views entirely. We are not trying to convince you that Common Core is good or bad; we simply want to give you a better understanding of the issue so you can make that determination for yourself. If you have an opinion you would like to discuss or an argument you would like to make, please leave a comment below. For more information on Common Core, see the Core Standards website or (as always) just Google it.

Edit: Here is a similar article to this one, only from a much more established source.

—–

David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Education Links We Love (June 19th, 2014)

Best education links of the week

Each week (usually Friday, but Thursday this week), we here at Thirty-Eight Minutes post our five favorite education-themed articles from around the web this week. Alas, we are but five guys with limited time to surf the furthest reaches of the Internet. So, as always, we would love any additional articles worth reading. If you find any, please post them below and share your discoveries with us.

Calling Visionary Philanthropists (Inside Higher Ed)

Starbucks to Provide Free College Education (NYT)

The Way to Always Have “Ineffective” Teachers (HuffPost)

4 Ways the Internet is Making Kids Smarter (Edudemic)

An Awkward Public-Private Partnership That’s Actually Working (The Atlantic)

Local Bonus: Inappropriate Appropriations and a Broken Promise (OK Policy Blog)

An Open Letter To Teachers: You Are Making A Difference

Some of the students with the longest odds are those who you impact the most as a teacher.

I moved to the border of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from San Diego, CA at the very beginning of the 8th grade into a low socioeconomic neighborhood. The closest middle school to the area I moved was comprised of a melting pot of students, 94% of whom received free and reduced lunch as of 2012. Not long after moving into the neighborhood, I befriended a kid by the name of Sedarious. Sedarious and I began a friendship that grew as we spent countless hour playing basketball in my Uncle’s driveway or throwing a football in the yard. While spending time with Sedarious, he told me that there many of the kids who attended Webster that were in gangs and that it was not uncommon to find drugs at school.

 

While Sedarious wound up attending one of the lowest performing middle schools in the district, I had the chance to spend most of my 8th grade year at the best magnet middle school in Oklahoma City. Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School is a school that offered classes where students could receive High School credit, and even Latin. However, I didn’t finish the year at that school because I moved out of district and into a surrounding area. I never understood why I had the chance to attend a magnet school while he had to attend low performing middle school. I now realize that I had the chance to attend such a great school because my cousin attended the school and my Uncle vouched for me as an involved parent. When I was a Junior in college, my sister told me she ran into him and he told her that he had been in and out of jail for drugs and he never finished high school.

 

As I began my first year of teaching at Jefferson Middle School, a school 2.5 miles from the school that I had not lived far from as a teen, I thought about Sedarious and how similar we were as kids, as well as others that I used to know like him and I felt indignant. Why did I make it to college and graduate with a degree and honors, when he wound up in and out of jail? I had been on food stamps, been homeless, moved 3 times in 1 year, had an alcoholic father, and no one in my family had ever been to college. Belle Isle was simply a pathway to opportunity. It gave me a taste of what rigorous education and a great learning environment was like. It by no means was the reason for me succeeding, but it gave me a clearer picture of a good education. I now realize the reason for my success is not a school or an individual, but rather a group of people such as my 11th grade math teacher, Mr. Britt, my 12th grade Honors English teacher, Mrs. Hunt, and my 7th Grade AVID teacher, Mrs. Perez.

 

Everyday that I have walked the halls of Jefferson Middle School I encountered students just like Sedarious and myself. Those kids who want to strive for better, but have a hard time overcoming a litany of issues including: high mobility rate, parents in jail, homelessness, substance abuse, and a Spanish-English language barrier. I often times feel guilty because I was lucky enough to attain a college degree and not become another casualty of the broken education system. Knowing what is at stake for our kids because I have been in their shoes is why I have chosen to do this advocate for our students. I am but one of thousands of teachers who are too tired to wake up, but I force myself out of bed for morning tutoring I am motivated by what is at stake. And what is at stake is a shot at going to college, for some of them a shot at breaking the cycle of poverty, and for others a chance to love learning.

 

As I sat down to right this blog, I realized that what our kids need is not a Savior or someone to carry the burden of whether or not they succeed on their shoulders, they need a village of people and we are a part of that village that these students. We can’t carry that burden alone because when we carry that burden alone it can crush us. When I attempt to carry that weight on my shoulders many times it has crushed me, almost to the point of walking out of the classroom or even the brink of tears. I’ve felt disillusioned at various points as I know many teachers have when a student says, “I’m just going to drop out anyways.” Or when they show you complete and utter disrespect by pretending that they can’t hear your “explicit directions”. Even on the worst days, I have a moment or a glimmer of hope knowing the full potential of our students. My story is just one drop in the bucket when compared to countless similar stories like my own. To all teachers and advocates for our students, I want you to know that:

 

We are making a difference. You are making a difference. As I close I want to echo the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in reference to our fight for our students success.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.