By Christy Watson
School finance is complicated. Many outside the public education sector have only a general notion of how schools are funded. The mechanism is fuzzy even for many of those working in schools.
So when educators and public education advocates start talking about the need for more money, the question almost always comes back: How much is enough?
Let me start with just a few reasons that illustrate why I’m sure the current level isn’t enough.
I also know on a very personal level why it’s not enough. In February, my son’s third-grade teacher sent out a text with a lengthy list of supplies she needed for her classroom: pencils, spiral notebooks, folders, paper, etc. Off I went to Target to fill the classroom closets because it’s what I can do.
At my daughter’s middle school, parents are talking about a fundraising strategy to pay for supplies and equipment for excellent teachers who want to incorporate more hands-on learning in their classrooms — items the school could buy if it had the money.
How much is enough?
Oklahoma would have to spend nearly $1.3 billion more a year just to reach the average per-student investment of other states in our region. That would raise the per-student spending from its current level of $8,851 to the regional average of $10,744. Even if we wanted to just bump up one spot on the regional list and displace Texas, it would cost more than $750 million annually.
These are big dollars to talk about in a year of a $1.3 billion shortfall. That doesn’t mean we should ignore this huge gap in education investment and talk about it another day. I’m not OK with the idea that students in surrounding states have $30,000 or more invested in their education throughout the course of their school years. I don’t think most parents or business leaders think that’s OK, either.
How much is enough?
Isn’t the answer clear?
I’d really like an answer to this question: Why aren’t my children — and yours — worth more?
Watson is OSSBA’s communications director and the mom of two public school students.