Home > 744, education, Oklahoma > 744 may be a bad idea part 1 – the concept

744 may be a bad idea part 1 – the concept

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I want the state of Oklahoma to fund public education to the highest degree possible. I want my kids to be valued by the state and I want that value to be demonstrated in the extension of the best education possible. However, I have some real doubts about State Question 744 (.pdf doc) being the vehicle through which this kind of education should be provided. These posts are as much about me sorting out issues as anything else and are going to be way too long, even divided into multiple parts.

Imagine that you live in a neighborhood in which your family happens to be the one that earns the least. All of your neighbors make more money than you do – they have bigger houses, nicer cars, better clothes, etc. In fact, while you’re surviving, it’s a paycheck to paycheck existence with no margins. One day, someone knocks on your door and tells you that you can no longer drive your reasonable, affordable car but instead you have to buy a car with payments equal to the average of the car payments of your wealthier neighbors. You have no choice in the matter and no extra funds will be coming your way to make the payments. You have to figure out how to pay for it. If your neighbors trade up, you have to trade up as well. However, if they fall on hard times and have to move down a notch, you can’t move down with them. Upside: you get to drive a nice, new, shiny car. Downside: you have to find a way to divert (for instance) 12% from other spending to pay for the car.

This is State Question 744. If passed, Oklahoma will be required (by Constitutional decree) to increase per pupil education spending to the regional average of the surrounding six states (Texas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Missouri, and Arkansas).

For this first post, I want to focus on my problems with the concepts behind 744:

1. Creating a Constitutional amendment. In my conversation with YES on 744 communications director, Walton Robinson, he claimed that taking funding out of the hands of legislators (the purpose of going the amendment route), would keep funding from being blown by the winds of political sentiment. I understand the point. However, it’s hard to undo an amendment once it exists. Even a harmful one.  In fact, 744 is repealing a section of the OK Constitution that mandates that the state spend $42.00 per student. This has been on the books since 1932.

2. Holding OK spending to the average of wealthier states. It does not make sense for OK to be compared to states that have more economic resources – in some cases much more. YES on 744 wants to point out that our per capita income is higher than (at least) Arkansas, but that stat matters far less in the consideration of the state being able to meet these funding demands than state GDP per capita. Oklahoma is 47th in GDPPC, ranking above only Arkansas (49th), while New Mexico (44th), Kansas (33rd), Missouri (36th), Texas (22nd), and Colorado (11th) all have higher revenues. The argument is that we want to compete with other states in our region and that we should set high expectations for education funding, but at what point do high expectations become unreasonable ones? Why not create an average based on spending in the 6 states that rank just above us in GDPPC or other measures of economic development? By the way, while increasing graduation rates is a big part of the progress envisioned by the YES on 744 folks, OK already has a higher grad rate than 4 of the 6 states to which our funding is being compared.

3. Not allowing OK funding to decrease if the regional average goes down. This is the one that makes the least sense to me. I understand not wanting to ever reduce funding for education, but let’s think about it for a minute. Imagine a scenario in which the surrounding states experience a period of economic boom. Everyone is riding high and education spending increases rapidly. So the mandated spending in OK goes up as well. Great for everyone. But then a downturn hits our surrounding states (leading to the presumption that it would affect us as well). As state revenues shrink, everything gets cut, including education. But not in OK. We can’t. This inability to reduce spending could lead to education representing a grossly disproportionate percentage of the total OK budget.

I fully admit I do not have a grasp on every side of this debate. That’s why I contacted YES on 744 and will talk with the folks from the One Oklahoma Coalition as well. Feel free to take issue with my logic or point out gaps in my understanding of the issues. I welcome conversation. 2 rules though: 1) Be civil – I’m sick of the way these conversations tend to get held and 2) Keep your soundbites to yourself – this issue is far too complicated to be summed up in a slogan.

Next up: part 2 – paying the piper

Categories: 744, education, Oklahoma

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