Student outcomes offer best measure of schools' economic impact

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: September 10, 2012

DUE to the national recession, Oklahoma state funding for schools has been reduced since 2008 even as student numbers increased.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute argues those cuts hurt Oklahoma's economy, particularly due to more than 4,000 jobs being eliminated from public schools from 2009 to 2011.

School funding isn't designed to maximize local payroll, but to educate children. On that count, Oklahoma's education performance during the downturn is encouraging.

This year, for the first time, Oklahoma seniors were required to pass end-of-instruction exams to get a diploma. In 2008, just 53 percent of students passed the Algebra II exam. This year, 74 percent did. Those passing geometry increased from 68 percent to 82 percent. For English III, pass rates rose to 85 percent from 75 percent.

The improved performance occurred even as state funding declined — something for which teachers and students deserve praise. Those tests set minimum learning standards for all students. But college-bound students have also shown improvement. ACT results show the percentage of Oklahoma students meeting college-readiness benchmarks in math increased from 32 percent to 37 percent during the past five years. College readiness in other test areas remained constant.

Once again, student improvement occurred even as state dollars effectively decreased. Funding cuts haven't been as detrimental as critics would have citizens believe. Money matters, but so does how you spend money.

The elimination of 4,000 “education” jobs sounds bad, but those aren't all teaching positions. In the past 20 years, Oklahoma student enrollment increased about 13 percent; the number of support staff surged nearly 20 percent. Many education jobs are administrative, not teaching positions.

Ironically, many who complain about state funding have actually opposed programs that increase per-pupil amounts.

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