Over the past few years, school officials have repeatedly decried the education reforms that they claimed were unfunded. This year, schools are getting a not-insignificant budget increase. As lawmakers provide it, they should ensure the money actually goes to pay for the reforms school officials have often used to justify increased appropriations.
This requires making specific line-item appropriations. While lawmakers often grant spending discretion to local officials, legislators will no doubt line-item expenditures for National Board Certified Teacher stipends and school employee health insurance premiums, among other things. There's no justification for putting that safeguard in place for those expenditures but not for others that could have a massive impact on children's learning.
Take the third-grading reading requirement set to take effect. The Oklahoma Policy Institute estimates the law could require up to $31 million for reading intervention to ensure its effectiveness. Lawmakers should specify how much of this year's $2.4 billion public-schools appropriation will be used for that purpose. The same thing should be done regarding remediation costs associated with graduation tests students must pass to receive a high school diploma.
Hoping school administrators will spend money for those purposes without being compelled to do so may be naïve, especially given some administrators' recent comments. After a third-party vendor's servers crashed, temporarily delaying state tests for some students, Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard issued a statement declaring the “validity of these tests” to be “highly questionable” as a result. This is comparable to saying that the validity of the Devon Tower's design was highly questionable because a truck broke down hauling building supplies during its construction.
That administrators would engage in such blatantly misleading rhetoric to undermine education goals doesn't inspire confidence in their willingness to actually fund those same reforms. By using line-item appropriations to take the issue out of the hands of administrators, lawmakers can ensure Oklahoma children are better served.