Oklahoma's school districts can redirect more funding to teachers and classrooms by streamlining and consolidating administrative costs, offering parents more choices for their children and eliminating waste, said Sen. Kyle Loveless.
The Oklahoma State Senate Education Subcommittee on Appropriations held an interim study Wednesday spurred by legislation authored by Loveless last session. The bill would have consolidated administrative spending for more than 200 Oklahoma school districts with 250 or fewer students, which Loveless said could have resulted in more than $35 million in savings to be redirected to classrooms.
"Today was just to look at all the efficiencies that need to be improved in public education so that we can get more tax dollars to actual teaching," said Loveless, R-Oklahoma City.
Heather Kays, a research fellow specializing in education with The Heartland Institute, said school districts can share costs on a regional basis in some administrative functions and capital expenses to provide the benefit of scale.
"Places where that makes a lot of sense are things like payroll administration, human resources, employee benefit coordination, accounting, printing services, state aid planning, textbook and substitute teaching coordination, safety and risk management and staff development," Kays said.
Kays also outlined in-depth studies that analyzed examples of school choice programs such as charter schools. The studies showed students in public and charter schools achieved educational benefits and taxpayer money was spent more efficiently in a number of existing models available for Oklahoma to follow.
"You have very specific examples of it working well, and the laws already exist elsewhere," Kays said. "You can model them after that, and you can just make it so that it fits Oklahoma better."
The panel also heard a presentation from Brent Bushey, executive director of the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides member school districts with subsidies and other programs aimed to stretch funding dollars and provide better educational opportunities for students.
"We have a very simple mission: to work with public schools, to empower them and to find ways to both improve their school performance as well as drive down costs," Bushey said.
The resource center assists school districts with programs including financial management, instructor training, technology systems management and legal services.
Loveless pointed to information provided by speakers at the study that indicated school district consolidation and eliminating waste could lead to significant savings by school districts, which could directly benefit Oklahoma students.
"The issue here is the duplication. If there's just a little bit of waste, multiplied over 500 districts, that needs to be addressed," Loveless said. "Looking at it and discussing it and not just ignoring the problem is what we need to move forward."