It seems like such a simple idea. Oklahoma state Sen. Kyle Loveless wants to reduce administrative spending in schools and increase teacher salaries.
In the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) filed a bill that would have consolidated administrative spending for more than 200 school districts with 250 or fewer students. He estimated the measure would save more than $35 million, funds the state could redirect to teachers and classrooms. He told School Reform News he was surprised when even conservative legislators resisted the idea.
State Sen. John Ford (R-Bartlesville), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, questioned Loveless’s cost savings estimate and suggested he convene a study group along the lines of the federal government’s Base Realignment and Closure process, under which a commission planned to increase the efficiency of the U.S. Department of Defense by realigning and closing military facilities. Ford said he wouldn’t hear Loveless’s bill without something similar.
In mid-November Loveless convened an interim study hearing before the Oklahoma State Senate Education Subcommittee on Appropriations.
“Today was just to look at all the efficiencies that need to be improved in public education so that we can get more tax dollars to actual teaching,” said Loveless (R-Oklahoma City).
The statehouse meeting room was standing-room-only when the subcommittee discussed Loveless’s measure, with many school district employees and interested citizens in attendance.
Several superintendents from rural districts attended the hearing to learn about potential consolidation of services. Robert Trammell, superintendent in Snyder, said he agreed there was room for some administrative consolidation but he has serious concerns about cutting positions.
“It does look good on paper, because with a pencil you can push and erase and whatnot, but in reality, decisions have to be made, tough decisions,” Trammel said to Fox 25 television after the hearing.
Trammel and other superintendents said they are worried about local control being taken away and having the state, rather than local school boards, decide what geographical areas superintendents will cover. Trammel also expressed concern about potential logistical problems.
Trammel, who also serves as one of his district’s bus drivers, said he already covers a 350-square-mile district and that having responsibility over a larger area would not be practical.
Too Many Administrators?
One study discussed at the hearing found there were 5,733 unnecessary nonteaching and administrative positions in Oklahoma school districts in 2009. The report, written by Benjamin Scafidi and published by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, examined data from the annual editions of Digest of Education Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Scafidi found the number of students in Oklahoma increased 10 percent from 1992 to 2009, while the number of school personnel increased 25 percent. During that period, the number of teachers increased 24 percent and the number of administrators and nonteaching staff increased 28 percent.
In 2009 there were 40,907 administrators and other non-teaching staff in Oklahoma. Scafidi concluded 5,733 of those positions were not necessary.
If the number of administrators and nonteaching staff had changed between 1992 and 2009 at the same rate as enrollment changed, the state would have saved about $2.3 million a year, Scafidi found. The cost savings per classroom of 25 students would have been $8,886, and teacher salaries could have been raised by $4,924 a year.
Scafidi noted although staffing in U.S. public schools dramatically increased between 1992 and 2009, student achievement did not, as measured by graduation rates and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.
School Choice to Save Money
The possibility of using school choice programs as a way to save money also was discussed at the hearing. Several studies were presented by school choice proponents explaining the benefits of tax credit scholarship programs, charter schools, inter-district choice, and student-based budgeting.
One study discussed was a 2007 report by Susan Aud examining the fiscal effects of every school choice program in existence from 1990 to 2006. She found each of the programs, except those specifically designed to be revenue-neutral, produced at least $1 million in savings. Aud wrote, “In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state’s formula spending per student.”
Participants in the hearing discussed a study by Scafidi that supported Aud’s findings.
In “The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts,” Scafidi wrote, “research shows that all forms of school choice tried in the United States have led to improvement in academic outcomes for students who remain in public schools or have led to no effect on academic outcomes for students who remain in public schools. Thus, the evidence on academic outcomes is one-sided. Greater school choice does not harm academic outcomes for students who remain in public schools.”
Loveless said the committee is expected to explore the issue further during the 2015 legislative session.
He stressed he has no intention of closing schools or laying off principals. Instead, he said, he wants the state to take smart and careful action to improve education in Oklahoma and ensure taxpayer money is spent as efficiently and effectively as possible.
“The issue here is duplication. If there’s just a little bit of waste, multiplied over 500 districts, that needs to be addressed,” said Loveless, noting Oklahoma currently has more than 500 school districts. “Looking at it and discussing it, and not just ignoring the problem, is what we need to do to move forward.”
Benjamin Scafidi, “The Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/school-staffing-surge-decades-employment-growth-americas-public-schools
Susan Aud, “Education by the Numbers,” School Choice Issues in Depth, April 2007: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/education-numbers-fiscal-effect-school-choice-programs-1990-2006
Benjamin Scafidi, “The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, March 2012: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/fiscal-effects-school-choice-programs-public-school-districts