There are 30 counties in Oklahoma that have less than 3000 total public school students. In most states that would be considered one average-sized school district, But the reality is that Oklahoma pays 120 school superintendents to do the job in those 30 Oklahoma counties. This is just one aspect of administrative reform which is screaming out for implementation. It would result in increased classroom funding of about $1500 per student, per year, in those counties.
There are many ways to improve the classroom experience for both the student & the teacher, but administrators, regulations, and demagoguery are continuing to stand in the way.
Bigger school districts are not always better or more efficient. The 1889 Institute did a major analysis of Oklahoma's school districts & their data shows that districts with over 6000 students are less efficient in getting funds to the classroom.
Bust Up The Big Ones:
Oklahoma's two largest school districts (OKC & Tulsa) have perhaps the worst student performance scores and get the most money in per-pupil state funding. They should be split into separate districts with no more than two high schools and their feeder elementary & middle school campuses. Doing so would add many more school board seats so that invested families can have a greater role in the community's public education.
The national association of school administrators did a major study to find the optimal size of a school district. their conclusion is that the sweet spot is between 2000 - 4000. For many counties, there is a medium-size school district in the county seat. But the rural areas of the county have districts so small that students don't have many of the advanced educational tools and occupational programs because the district simply doesn't have the scale to make the investment feasible. That's where administrative consolidation is very needed for the success of all the students, whether the individual student wants to be a veterinarian or a diesel mechanic.
But the worst fear of many rural families is that their young children will be bussed into the big city and immersed in a culture that many of the parents deliberately moved away from when they bought a country home. The truth is, that needs to be specifically forbidden in any reform discussions. The reforming of administrations should have statutory language banning the closure of any campus for at least the next 5 years. What makes perfect sense is having administrative buying power and better utilization of advanced educational equipment and other district assets. It would also allow for more student transfer opportunities when a family wants their child to get learning opportunities that aren't yet available to them in the little district they now are limited to.
Let's take Muskogee County as an example...
The county has 10 separate school districts. Not one more student should be forced into the Muskogee Public School District because it already has 6000 and doesn't seem to perform as well as the smaller districts in the county. If the rural districts of Webber's Falls & Warner want to pull their resources, their students will have greatly enhanced opportunities in fine arts, athletics, occupational labs, and even many AP-level academic offerings.
Oklahoma used to have a County School Superintendent in every county. We killed that position with the HB1017 legislation of 1991. It needs to be restored, but in a slightly different capacity. School Districts which exceed 2000 students for 3 consecutive years should not be subordinate to the county superintendent. They should deal directly with the state dept. of education. But any school districts that remain under 2000, should be under the eventual administration of a county school administration. This ultimate reform will both recover massive millions of dollars back to the classroom, and greatly enhance the development of our state's greatest trophies... our own children.
Charter Schools have been a great option in many urban districts. Many great young scholars have excelled when the distractions and bureaucracy was taken out of the way. If Oklahomans knew just how many regulations the federal and state education bureaucracy has straddled the schools with, it would explain a lot about why teachers and administrators are so hindered.
Another massive development is the virtual charter school. Epic One on One is now surpassing 10,000 students enrolled in all 77 counties. The student stays home and completes his state-approved curriculum with the help of certified tutors on call whenever needed. Epic operates at about half the per-pupil funding of the big school districts. Yet they pay their teachers an average of $63,000 per year. Merit pay accounts for a big chunk of the compensation, so the teacher assigned to the student gets a big annual stipend for each student who completes the required instruction. Western Oklahoma ranching families are flocking to the option because their kids don't waste hours per day riding school buses across the county. Epic also funds extra curricular activities like sports, fine arts, drama, and even junior rodeo.
Epic delivers 80% of their funding to the direct education of the student (classroom funding). The national average for public education is 61%. Oklahoma's public schools only deliver 55% of funding to the classroom instruction of our kids.*
*David Chaney, founder of Epic One On One