People now organizing and arguing against State Question 744 usually omit the most crucial point about why the issue is even on the ballot: Oklahoma has underfunded its schools for years.
SQ 744 will simply bring the state up to the regional average in education funding if voters approve it during the November election. Note the words “average” and “regional.” Why in the world would Oklahomans not want to fund education as much as, say, New Mexico and Arkansas fund education? Why is the state last in per-pupil spending in this region and, according to one recent report, 49th in the entire nation?
But for those who have organized to oppose the question, the corporate power structure, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, the transportation and contracting industries and the state workers union, the underfunding of education here doesn’t even seem to be on their radar. Their only concern is how much the increase in funding would cost-The Oklahoman editor Ed Kelley claims it would be up to $950 million-and how the state would come up with the extra money.
Watch this video of Kelley arguing against the measure. Note he doesn’t even mention that (1) the state has consistently had low per-pupil spending levels on the regional and national level, (2) and education funding has actually been cut recently, which will lead to teacher layoffs and crowded classrooms. How can you fairly argue against SQ 744 unless you either acknowledge the low per-pupil spending level here or simply admit education is not that important in Oklahoma?
What’s important for Kelley is that people are raising millions of dollars to fight increasing education funding to an average level, which he argues could lead to cuts to other areas of government. Kelley might well be the ultimate cheerleader for corporate interests here, but it’s not a given that other areas of government would be cut.
Will revenue growth be enough to pay for the increase in funding? The question doesn’t mandate tax increases, but it’s important to remember that tax cuts in recent years primarily benefited the state’s wealthiest residents. Are there other ways to raise revenues for education without major taxation changes?
The point here is the question, if passed, would, yes, force lawmakers to carefully craft new budget policy. What’s wrong with that? What should be the state’s budget priorities? Right now, the prevailing modus operandi at the state Capitol is to cut taxes every time there’s a budget surplus and then to cut services and education when the inevitable budget crisis comes along. That’s not policy: it’s anti-policy driven by anti-government ideology. Does anyone think this will change anytime soon?
I respect and personally know political leaders who publicly oppose the question while recognizing public education is terribly underfunded here, and I understand their concerns, but how else besides approving SQ 744 or a similar initiative can the state finally begin to adequately fund education here? Does anyone really think that most of those people who oppose SQ 744 will ever support substantial increases in education funding here?