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Going Backward on Education Transparency

February 2, 2018 - 1:22pm CST

A bill passed during the last legislative session has changed how Oklahoma’s State Department of Education reports expenses. HB 1202 states that “aggregate current expenditures shall not include expenditures for adult and community education, facilities acquisition and construction services, debt services, property and other expenditures not related to the day-to-day operations.”  This dramatically reduces the Department’s reported expenditures, as shown in the chart comparing data over the last decade.

This new math means that money spent remodeling buildings or constructing new facilities is no longer in the expenditure report produced by the State Department of Education, including when calculating per pupil expenditures. This would be like a business claiming that money spent on office space is not really part of its costs or like a family that ignores the cost of housing in the monthly budget. Other expenses, such as workers’ compensations claims and employee health care reimbursements, are also excluded from SDE’s total end-of-year expenses.

Putting a veil around total education expenses is a step backward in the debate over total state spending. With many people focused solely on appropriated funds, two-thirds of state spending is already left out of many discussions. Taxpayer money is still spent on bond payments and facility improvements regardless of whether the expenses are shown on the annual report or not. An honest debate on public education funding calls for more transparency, not less.