While some data can be enlightening on its own, some is best considered in a larger context. The graphs above tell us a lot about the students currently being served in our public schools but on their own do not tell the whole story. Oklahoma’s public schools continue to become more racially and ethnically diverse. The number of students reporting as Caucasian has steadily declined from just over 50% of the entire population to 46% over the span of a decade. Out of all racial and ethnic groups for which we have data, students identifying as Hispanic has been the fastest growing group.
This population shift also brings a shift in student needs like programs to offset lunch costs and English as a Second Language (ESL). We cannot, however, attribute the rise of students requiring additional services to any one race or ethnicity. The State Aid funding formula accounts for this growth in need by providing additional state and targeted federal funds for these programs. To determine the amount, the state calculates a base rate for each student and then multiplies that rate for students with higher needs. As the base rate changes, funding for these programs also changes despite no change in the programs’ costs. For example, a school may receive an additional $80 one year for a student identified as ESL or bilingual but only receive $70 the following year due to a decline in the base rate. Difficulty often arises in smaller districts when there aren’t enough students identified for a program. The growing costs of these programs result in growing administrative overhead to keep them running at a level to address students’ needs. When these needs are unmet, other performance indicators become skewed and unreliable.
It is also important to look at where the largest demographic gaps occur. For many rural districts, diversity has not increased according to tracked metrics; the needs have increased for low-income students and those whose native language is not English. For suburban and urban districts, additional student needs and diversity have grown exponentially. Many larger districts have the ability to pool greater financial resources to serve students but still struggle to recruit trained teachers to lead specialized programs.
This is even more complex when we account for the growth of need in public charter schools and their ability to financially support all students. These schools receive the same state resources to provide specialized programs but are unable to raise local funding to fill in the gaps and, as evidenced above, they attract a more diverse demographic than the traditional districts in which they are located. Charter schools in Tulsa serve 10% more racially and ethnically diverse students than traditional public schools in the district, with the charters serving far more Black and Hispanic students. Charter schools in Oklahoma City serve 7% more Hispanic students than traditional schools in the OKCPS district.