The numbers tell a story

Sometimes you just have to sit back and let people prove themselves a fool. In this instance, the fools are those legislators who have bought the story that all Oregon’s failing education system needs is more money. The purveyors of this myth are the teachers’ unions and the public employees unions.

The legislature has just proposed a 17.7% increase in general fund appropriations for Oregon’s K-12 education. That means an increase from the current $5.3 Billion budget to $6.245 Billion. And that is only the state’s share of the budget. In addition, local property taxes add about $2.8 Billion. When added together you have a massive $9.02 Billion dedicated to K-12 education for the next biennium. That will boost Oregon’s average annual cost per K-12 student to $8,472. That is up almost a $1000 per student from 2005.

I went to the United States Department of Education website to gather information regarding school performance. Information for the 2006-07 school year was not available, so the most current information is for 2005-06. Following is how Oregon stacked up against its neighboring states in terms of performance vs. expenditures.

Math-Reading Scores…Student/Teacher..Cost per/Student

Colorado…..546…….17.0 …….$7,536.00
Arizona……..529…….21.3 …….$6,465.00

Oregon already expends more per student than any of the other regional states and yet its performance is in the middle of the pack. The student teacher ratio for Oregon schools is slightly below the average for the surrounding states even though it expends more per student than all of the states which have better student teacher ratios.

The 17 percent increase will put Oregon significantly ahead of its neighboring states in expenditures per student. One should expect that Oregon schools’ academic performance will match that increase. (Just as a measure of common sense, please remember that inflation is running around six percent per biennium and so the education funding increase is about three times the rate of inflation.)

A seventeen percent increase in funding. Wow. You would expect that Oregon would be in position to hire a whole herd of new teachers and reduce the student/teacher ratio down to at least the average of the surrounding states.
A seventeen percent increase in funding. Wow. You would expect that with Oregon already spending more than the surrounding states, that the performance level would shoot to the top of the heap – outdistancing even Washington.
A seventeen percent increwase in funding. Wow. With that kind of increase you would think the teachers unions and the public employees unions would be laughing up their sleeves. Well, one of those assumptions is true.

As much as we would like to think that these types of improvements would be the case, don’t hold your breath. According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, of the nearly $1Billion in funding increases, nearly three-quarters of it will be required to fund existing collective bargaining requirements – increases in PERS funding, increases in health insurance, “step” increases (those are raises you get for simply being there for each year and are in addition to the salary increases) and inflation for goods and services. That does not include salary increases that will come about from collective bargaining sessions.

I don’t pretend to know whether the expenditures per student are too much or too little. I do know that there is no correlation nationally or regionally between the amount expended and the academic performance. I do know that we are frittering away about ten percent of the school funding on the failed CIM/CAM programs. I do know that teachers and public employee benefits (PERS and healthcare) are far in excess of any of the states in our region. I do know that the public employee unions have sole source contracts that prohibit schools from finding the lowest cost alternatives for non-educational services. I do know the teachers unions and the public employee unions have imposed work rules and grievance procedures that ensure that the poorest performing teachers are deemed the norm and are thus immune from termination. And I do know that private schools and charter schools routinely out perform the public schools in every category from academic achievement to cost efficiency.

And I do know that the same people who throw more money at Oregon’s failing educational system steadfastly refuse to acknowledge or treat any of these problems.

So, don’t hold your breath. A billion dollars more only bought you more of the same.