Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It Ain't Funny Money...the Funding Crisis is Real.

I hear such dire numbers about public school funding in Oklahoma:  $199,429,221.00 fewer dollars tothe schools than in 2008, according to OEA.  1,500 fewer teachers than in 2008. 40,000 more students than in 2008, according to Together OK. Per-pupil expenditures in Oklahoma cut 22.8% -- the most drastic cut in the nation. And yet, politicians try to put us on the defensive when we demand support and resources for our schools.
To be honest, those numbers swim in front of my eyes and I can’t even make sense of them. They’re so vast, they remind me of Monopoly…and frankly, I don’t like Monopoly…all that funny money just makes me nervous.

But here are some figures that  do make sense. A friend figured out that the state’s per-pupil investment is $17 per day – per student.

According to the cost estimates on Rep. Kern’s ‘guns inschool parking lots,’ the state will save $49 by not jailing people who do bring guns onto campus. So. $49 to jail someone…$17 to educate them. I haven’t had to hire a babysitter in years – my granddaughters are nearly old enough to begin that time-honored profession. I’m not sure how many hours of babysitting a harried parent can buy for $17, but I’m pretty sure it’s fewer than a school day, with instruction and supervised playtime. And materials and resources and computers and books. Pretty sure that $17 wouldn’t go far ( UPDATE! Just found an article that quotes the price for an hour of babysitting at $14.50-$15 per hour. So you could get a teenager to sit for about an hour while you ran one errand for the amount the state invests for a full day of instruction!).

$17 a day. What a bargain! Public education in Oklahoma defies the ‘you get what you pay for’ adage. Oklahoma taxpayers get a heck of a lot more than they pay for.  And our policymakers begrudge every penny…they throw up arguments to ‘prove’ we have plenty enough funding. They are dead wrong

In order to bring this discussion back to numbers I can comprehend, I found a price comparison page…let’s talk about prices in 2008 – when schools were supported 22.8% higher.

So, let’s price out a typical breakfast then-and-now…actually not 2014 -- 2013. In 2008, bread cost $1.68 on average – last year, it was $1.98. Imagine buying that bread at 2014 prices with fewer dollars in your pocket than you had in 2008. Eggs – gotta have eggs. They cost $1.29 a dozen – last year they were $1.88. Bacon? $2.96 in 2008. $4.98 in 2013. OK, we have toast, eggs and bacon. Let’s add coffee. $5.49 on average in 2008 per pound. $7.98 last year.  Milk: $2.65 to $4.28.

$13.30 in 2008 -- $30.12 in 2013.  I KNOW these prices are not Oklahoma-specific, but they make my point…prices have not dropped, or stayed the same. Imagine...this is breakfast for your family. They need breakfast. They deserve breakfast. The Oklahoma Legislature says we should be satisfied with LESS than the 2008 amount of funding to buy breakfast at today's prices.

A big  surprise for me involved doing the laundry after breakfast. Tide soap powder was $5.98 – last year, it cost me $11.98 to clean up my mess!

And let’s say I get frustrated and want to escape to a movie? In 2008, a ticket would run, on average, $6.95. Average last year? $10.25

Prices have risen since 2008 on nearly every product and service. Schools pay those higher prices for everything. Food, computers, books, supplies, resources, building supplies, electricity, gasoline to run the buses, vehicles.  

But what if you had 22.8% fewer dollars now to spend than you did in 2008? That is what schools face every day. They don’t pay 2008 prices. They pay 2014 prices…with fewer dollars than they had in 2008. No household could sustain this pressure, and yet our schools have.

At the same time as our enlightened policy makers have squeezed schools, they’ve added more and more unfunded and underfunded mandates. They’ve increased the requirements, increased the testing. Required schools to complete testing online, which means more computers, more band-width.  

We’re coping with these mandates and requirements with a $17 a day investment from our state. When a politician asks you ‘How much more do you want for schools?’ I think we need to say, ‘More than $17 a day.’ I may write that on my sign for the Rally on March 31.

I have a modest proposal for increasing the funding to schools. 
  • Stop all standardized testing if the money goes to testing corporations out of state. Why should we be enriching other states with our educational dollars? 
  • Stop any and all unfunded or under-funded mandates to schools. If a mandate is important, include full funding. If it’s not, then no one needs it. 
  • Restore funding to 2008 levels.

NOW. No excuse, no shilly-shallying. DO IT. 

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