Recently I received an e-mail from my state Representative that included misconceptions about school funding in our state. As I read the Opinion pages of statewide papers and discuss the walkout with friends, colleagues, and strangers, I often hear similar misconceptions repeated. Below, I address a few of the common misconceptions I have heard over the past few weeks.
Teachers should complain to school districts about their pay. School districts set their own salary schedules and could pay teachers more.
Yes, school districts set their own salary schedules and some districts in Oklahoma do already pay more than the state-required minimum. However, if schools in Oklahoma do not have enough money for extracurricular activities, AP classes, copy paper, etc., how can they justify using their already limited funds to pay teachers more? Paying teachers more out of the inadequate funds appropriated by the state legislature would only take resources out of classrooms.
Updated facilities and technology in schools indicate that districts have more than enough financial resources.
New classrooms, 1:1 initiatives (a laptop or other device for each student), and new athletic facilities exist in Oklahoma despite inadequate state aid because communities pass local bonds. Bonds, by law, can be used to fund only certain expenditures which include textbooks, technology, and facilities. These funds cannot be used for teacher salaries (at least not at this time—there is a bill that proposes to change this, which is a very bad idea and a topic for another blog post). When you see a new elementary school being built in your town or your student brings home a ChromeBook, it is likely because your community passed a local bond. Oklahomans have generally been very supportive of bonds, enabling facilities and technology to keep pace with surrounding states while falling far behind in teacher salaries and classroom funding.
The growth in the number of non-teacher positions in school districts is wasteful.
Critics of efforts to provide greater funding for Oklahoma schools often cite growth in the number of positions that are not classroom teachers as an indication of wasteful spending in schools. Today’s schools are expected to provide more support for students than ever before, necessitating specialized support staff who work individually with students to improve skills including reading and math specialists, speech pathologists, and English as a Second Language specialists. Growth in these positions benefits students who are struggling in reading or math or learning English, providing the support they need to be successful. They are not wasteful; rather, they are essential to student success.
The problems with school funding in Oklahoma have been solved by the teacher pay raise.
The financial problems for Oklahoma schools have always been multi-faceted and cannot be solved by one simple policy solution. A teacher pay raise is an important step toward stemming the teacher shortage. Additional funding for classrooms will improve teacher retention (by providing teachers with the resources they need to do their jobs well), provide instructional resources for students, allow schools to fund non-core courses (like art and music) and extracurricular activities, and enable schools to hire more teachers and lower class sizes—all of which contribute to better learning environments for students. The teacher pay raise measure passed was only the first step in what needs to be a long-term solution to ensure the state legislature meets its constitutional obligation to fund public education.
What other misconceptions about school funding have you heard that we as a community need to address?