A recent rally sponsored in part by the group “49th is Not OK” urged state officials to increase school funding. While that's a legitimate cause, one argument advanced for it misleads through omission.
The “49th is Not OK” label apparently refers to Oklahoma's per-pupil funding rank in the Children's Defense Funds' annual Children in the States Fact Sheets. The CDF lists Oklahoma's per-pupil expenditure at $7,878, or 49th in the nation. However, that $7,878 in Oklahoma City is comparable to $14,162 in San Francisco and $19,046 in New York City, according to a cost-of-living calculator at CNN Money's website.
The CDF pegs per-pupil funding in California at $9,503 (ranked 34th) and in New York at $17,746 (second-highest among all states). Taken out of context, both states appear to be putting far more money into public schools than Oklahoma. But when you adjust for regional cost differences, the average student in Oklahoma City appears to fare better than counterparts in New York City and San Francisco.
The reason some states spend more per pupil than Oklahoma is that they must spend more to get the same bang for their buck. The difference between perception and reality is especially stark once you adjust for purchasing power differences in Oklahoma City and New York City.
Cost-of-living differences don't close the entire funding gap between Oklahoma and other states, but they make a difference. Comparisons with other states are tricky and can be misleading. Furthermore, how you spend money often matters more than how much you spend.
The argument over education funding is an important discussion. But to belittle Oklahomans' support for schools based on an accounting sleight-of-hand is unworthy of such a serious debate.
School appropriation decisions should be based on accurate data and Oklahoma's needs — period.