[Guest post by Jonathan Small]
Status-quo defenders insist waste, fraud, and
mismanagement in state government are overhyped. Then how do they explain
Oklahoma schools being paid to educate more than 55,000 “ghost students”?
Ghost-student funding has been in place for
years, but COVID-19 has put it on steroids.
Oklahoma law distributes state funding based
on several factors, one of which is “the highest weighted average daily
membership for the school district of the two (2) preceding school years.”
Put in plain English, that means a school can
be paid for students who attended two years ago but are no longer there. Thus,
even amidst a significant enrollment decline, districts receive huge sums for
“teaching” nonexistent “ghost” students.
This funding farce is now too big to ignore.
Due to COVID-19 and several districts’ refusal to provide full-time, in-person
instruction, there has been a mass exodus to alternatives, including credible
online providers such as Epic, other districts, private schools, and
Newly released enrollment figures show
Oklahoma schools can now claim more than 55,000 ghost students this year via the use of old enrollment numbers. If ghost students were confined to a single
school district, it would be larger than any brick-and-mortar district in
consequences of ghost-student funding are not minor. The state-aid figure for
2021 is $3,533.17 per student, so those 55,000-plus ghost students translate
into at least $195.1 million in misallocated funding.
Just 22 districts
account for more than 55 percent of ghost students. Oklahoma City has nearly
6,800 ghost students while Tulsa has 3,291. Those ghost-student payments are on
top of money both districts receive for other students who have not received
full-time, in-person instruction this year. Because of that poor service, the
share of high-school students flunking at least one class in Oklahoma City has
surged to 59 percent, and the failure rate in other districts has doubled or
tripled, according to KWTV.
funding particularly harms rural schools that have remained open. Those schools
have been teaching children, and often steer clear of the political
indoctrination seen elsewhere, yet they are being shorted financially for doing
their job as other school officials play political games.
One reason school leaders in urban areas have
been so indifferent to the needs of families is that ghost-student funding
shields them from the full financial consequences of their shutdown decisions.
Schools need to be
held accountable for performance. Tying funding to current-year
enrollment can be part of that process, although the best reform would be to
let tax funding follow the child and empower parents to independently pick any
school, whether public or private.
Those of us in the private sector don’t get paid unless we provide promised goods or services to customers. There’s no reason schools should be any different.