The education lobby will soon ask Oklahoma voters to sign a petition requiring that our state per-pupil school spending must always equal the regional average. There are at least four reasons why this is a bad and dangerous idea.
First, anyone who knows basic arithmetic understands why this won't work. Every time you raise Oklahoma's per-pupil spending you also raise the regional average, even if the other states in our region do nothing. That ever-escalating average then becomes the carrot at the end of a stick, forever just out of reach. You can never equal a moving average when what you do drives that average forward.
Second, the petition would require the immediate allocation of at least 850 million new dollars to the schools. Since the Oklahoma Constitution insists that we balance our budget, those dollars could come from only two places — other state programs or tax increases.
That would mean shutting down most highway repairs, releasing prisoners as we lay off guards, trimming social services to the bone — all in the name of a per-pupil spending average that may not even improve learning. If we opted for tax increases to pay the bill, the forced extraction of almost a billion dollars from Oklahoma household budgets would work an enormous hardship on everyone.
Third, our schools simply don't deserve more dollars until they spend the ones they have more sensibly.
As Americans for Prosperity recently reported, Oklahoma schools spend three times the regional average on school administrative costs that never even reach the classroom — $753 per pupil versus $242. Every time school enrollment goes up, so does administrative overhead.
If the question is what will bring more learning, the answer isn't simply "spend more per student.