One Simple Change to Plug the Billion Dollar Budget Hole and Put Oklahoma Education Financing in Order for Decades to Come
David Van Risseghem, the Editor of SoonerPolitics.org, wrote a thought provoking editorial last week on the number of kids per classroom. David posted a picture of his kindergarten class with 33 kids and one teacher and of course there were no teacher aides back then. Thinking back to my school days there were always between 30 and 40 kids per class yet kids got a better education in those days.
What happened was that HB1017 was signed into law on April 25th, 1990. The bill reduced class sizes, raised teacher salaries, and increased spending. Since then the Oklahoma teacher/student ration has dropped to around sixteen students per teacher.
Historically the teacher student ratio was around 27 kids per teacher until the teachers unions pushed for more teachers in the nineties. Ironically Oklahoma was ahead of most states in adopting fewer students per teacher. Meanwhile from 1970 to 2010 the number of students increased by 7.8%, the number of teachers increased by 60%, and the number staff and administrative workers increased by 138%. Today teachers are almost outnumbered by non teaching staff and administrators.
And student achievement in math and reading scores? They have barely budged at all.
Adding one child per class in Texas lowered the average test score by only one half of one percent so doubling class size from 15 to 30 might have an effect of 15% lower test scores according to this study but once you look again at the reading and math scores in the first graph you realize the loss of grades doesn't scale at all. In other words doubling the class size would have minimal effect.
There is also the effect of more school days per year, adding 30 days to the school year has been shown to increase test scores by 15%. The graph below shows what would happen if you factored an increase in the number of kids per teacher.
The effect of offsetting the loss of test scores potentially caused by more students per teacher is vastly overridden by increasing the number of school days by fifty. Right now kids are in school 180 days out of the 365 days per year, or 50% of the time. Eliminating all holidays, breaks, and summer vacation would leave 260 days a year, so increasing the school year from 180 to 230 days leaves 30 days for holidays, breaks, or vacation.
How to pay for this? Simple, teaching is a part time job as we have it configured, 1080 hours per year minus personal days, sick days, and such brings it down to around 1050 or a little over 26 weeks of work if you break the required hours into a forty hour work week that the rest of society works. Double the number of students per teacher halves the cost per student for the teacher salary, from over $3300 to $1600 per student. Adding ten percent raise to the teacher salary costs less than $5000, but that teacher is teaching twice as many kids, half as many teachers are needed, half the employment taxes and health insurance. The cost for teaching 30 kids has gone from $100,000 to $55,000.
Getting the Oklahoma billion dollar budget hole plugged is going to take some changes. Local retail sales are falling along with the sales tax revenue as people vote with their pocket books. Seven hundred thousand Oklahoma students will cost $2,100.000,000 in teacher salary if we keep class size at 15 students per teacher but only $1,120,000,000 if each teacher taught 30 kids per class. There is more than a billion dollars in savings to plug the upcoming budget hole.
Now add to that by getting the number of administrators down to around one per fifty teachers, more than enough to monitor performance, do payroll, and handle human resources. Let the student counslers go, let go the teacher aides, let go all the useless mouths that are being fed and not teaching kids the three R's or impacting test scores. The school employees that are left will have to work for a living like the taxpayers.
Now, that is the logical reasons why we should look hard at the laws governing class size and make the needed changes in the school year to cover any potential drop in test scores. And the emotional reasons is that Oklahoma just rejected a 22% increase in sales tax to pay for the lazy and inept educational system.
Any legislator that supports raising feeds or raising taxes or taxing currently untaxed services is going to walk into a huge buzz saw. That is a promise.