I have just begun reading up on SQ 744, which pertains to funding pre K-12th grade students in the State of Oklahoma. I don’t get too far into my study of this proposal before the words spoken by an Oklahoma State Senator recently begin to reverberate in my head. Senator Russell was speaking about the growth of our state government, what that portends for the preservation of individual liberty and the economic realities that we are facing;
“If the state’s budget were a ham sandwich, we would see two fat hobos crying starvation as they devour over half the sandwich while 18 other hobos try to divide what is left.
“More!” the fat hobos say. “If you don’t give us more, then you hate teachers and hate children and you care nothing about the future of Oklahoma!”
No, what we hate is theft and waste of government tax dollars earned by the people of Oklahoma.”
The actual text of the measure reads as follows:
This measure adds a new Article to the Oklahoma Constitution. The Article concerns the amount of money the State provides to support common schools, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. The Article requires the State each year to provide an amount of money per pupil that is at least equal to the average of the amounts spent per pupil by the states surrounding Oklahoma: Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. If the average of the amounts spent per pupil by the surrounding states decreases for any year, the State must provide the same amount of money per pupil as the previous year. The amount spent per pupil means the amount spent for the day-today operations of schools and school districts, including instruction, support services, and non-instruction services, but not including building projects or debt. The Article requires annual reports on education spending and school performance. Common schools must be funded in this manner within three years.
Shall the following proposed new Article XII-C of the Constitution be approved?
For the proposal – Yes
Against the proposal – No
“Every year, our legislature creates an average of over 400 new laws to complicate the lives of Oklahomans. Thank God we are only a part-time legislature. Lest we be dealt with too harshly, that figure is whittled down from several thousand bills. From 1988 to 2004, we have successfully passed laws that grew our state government by 149%. This outstripped the combined totals of inflation and population growth by 123%. This is not nationally—this is right here in Oklahoma. After 2004, we’ve seen no appreciable difference in the figures since Republicans began to come to power.
The government and entitlement growth disease is clearly bi-partisan.
Today, Oklahoma ranks as the 5th most over-governed state in our Republic. From 2000 to 2009, private sector jobs increased not quite 3%, while State Government employment increased over three times that to nearly10%. Local Government increased by a whopping 27%. What does that mean?
[. . .]it means that one in every six Oklahomans here is probably a government worker of some kind. So what impact does that have if you sit in this room and don’t have a government job? It means that it will now take 17 of you to pay the taxes to employ each state worker. It will take 29 of you to fund a local government worker. The ratio is out of whack. So is the mentality that allows it to grow.
Here is the real eye-popping and most pertinent portion of Sen. Russell’s remarks;
Education spending today could have operated our entire state in 1996.
Today it accounts for over 55% of the state’s budget—one of the highest in the country—leaving hundreds of other agencies and services to scramble for the 45% of crumbs that remain.
We actually do care that only 1 in 4 of our kids today can name the first president of the United States. We are concerned that 25% of 4th graders cannot read at a basic level, shedding light on why only 80% of children graduate our high schools. We are amazed that Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia have less school districts added together as Oklahoma does by itself, yet, they have 11 times our population!
We wonder how Iowa, with our same population can operate with 50% less state superintendent overhead and still outscore us at nearly every level on the ACT for high school seniors.
We get angry when we discover that a school superintendent made $502K a year in 2009.
[. . .]You see, we don’t hate teachers or children at all. We hate dishonesty—something we should have learned was bad at school. And besides, education in Oklahoma has been fixed. We fixed it with the tax on cigarettes and alcohol. We fixed it with para-mutual betting. We fixed it with oil and gas revenue streams. And then we really fixed with Casino gambling and the state lottery. So please educators, don’t give us the broken record when you come to us for more on State Question 744.
One thing we haven’t fixed with education is the spine of lawmakers willing to say, “Enough! Make do with what you have and prepare to be audited.” And because we have such chiropractic deficiencies, the educational lobbyists knock off the state coffers like a convenience store every year because they know they will get a pay off.” (emphasis added) –Senator Steve Russell
Hear any truth there? I do.
The next question that occurs to me is;
What do the surrounding states have to do with Oklahoma? Why should we base our funding in such a “Keep up with the Jones’ manner”?
Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for doing so but I can’t see from where I stand, what that reason might be.
After a little more digging I find that in addition to the usual voices that I would expect to be opposed to more government spending, there is also bi-partisan opposition to this proposal, including Oklahoma Lt. Governor Jari Askins. I admit I was surprised to see her expressing concern over SQ 744. My impression of Lt. Gov. Askins was that she has been a champion for public education.
This is an overt indication that this proposal is not at all what it is being sold as.
The words of Lynn Green who is a high school teacher and supporter of Askins for Governor, confirms that my impression that Askins has a reputation as an advocate for public schools.
“All of those running for public office claim they want to improve education. All of them talk about the importance of schools and praise those who teach in them. Not all put their words into actions as Jari has.”
Also voicing concern about SQ 744 is Sen, Andrew Rice, Gov. Brad Henry and more officials like them who are viewed as decidedly pro-public education.
So what gives?
Someone wanted this to be on the ballot in November badly enough to gather nearly a quarter of a million signatures. That’s TWICE the necessary number signatures required to get it there. I wonder how the measure was presented to signers? I think we all understand the value of giving our kids a quality education-it simply can’t be overstated in importance but something reeks when it comes to this doozy of a ballot measure!
The initiative’s petition drive was backed by the Oklahoma Education Association, among other groups, such as The HOPE, or Helping Oklahoma Public Education, intended to collect 200,000 signatures by the first week of November 2009. That goal was well above the 138,970 needed to place the question on the ballot.
Funding for the HOPE ballot initiative
According to a Tulsa World article August 30, 2008, petition circulators were paid $1 per signature and the drive raised $179,627 since May 1, with all but $100 coming from the OEA or National Education Association. The group hoped to raise as much as $3 million for the entire process, which would include a possible challenge.
The OEA raised $600,000 to pay 250 circulators, and projected the total ballot initiative would cost $3 million. According to a September 2009 report, the measure could cost the state up to $850 million per year.
The OEA funded the drive.
The Sunshine Review on Feb. 1, 2009 states;
With Sunshine Week coming up next month, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is calling on government officials to increase transparency of public education. A study by the organization found that many costs were hidden, and while the Oklahoma public was told per-pupil spending in FY-2003 was $6,429, it was actually $11,250. 
More interesting facts about Oklahoma public schools from the Sunshine Review;
I don’t think funding necessarily translates to better quality education but then there is also the question of where this 850 million needed to pay for this initiative supposed to come from exactly?
I want to be informed when I vote on these state questions coming up in November. From what I’ve seen so far, SQ 744 looks like a big loser for our state.