Unless there’s another energy boom soon in Oklahoma, the state will continue to experience slow population growth because of its current political milieu and anti-education bias.
For some Oklahomans, that might be fine, but for those interested in ensuring the state remains viable, slow or no population growth will mean a stagnant tax base and a stagnant business climate. This will only lead to less population growth, and the problem will only become larger.
These ideas should be put into public discussion because the U.S. Census has released preliminary population estimates for 2009. As of July 1, 2009, the state had a population of 3,687,050, which is only 236,396 larger than 2000. At that growth rate, the state will only top 4 million around 2020. That’s not dynamic growth to say the least.
In a video discussing the recent numbers, The Oklahoman editor Ed Kelley argued population growth here needs to be greater and that the state could ultimately lose another Congressional seat in the House. He also argued that entrepreneurs want to work and live in places that are “growing.” They also want a “smart, educated workforce,” Kelley said.
All that is true, but Kelley ignores the elephant in the room: Oklahoma’s national image continues to suffer because of politicians here pushing their religious and social agendas and because the state funds education at some of the lowest rates in the nation.
Let’s take state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahma City). She has infamously said homosexuality is a greater threat to the nation than terrorism. This comment drew national attention at a time when cultural attitudes about gay rights are becoming more accepting and tolerant. Her remarks and other political antics depict the state as an intolerant haven for misfit ideologues.
What about state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore), who is part of a political corruption investigation? He brought us the recent draconian illegal immigration bill. His bill and his subsequent comments about it drew national attention and a lot of negative reaction. Why in the world would Oklahoma of all places lead the fight against illegal immigration? In the end, the bill makes the state seem unwelcoming of people from different countries.
Let’s not forget the recent abortion legislation that required women seeking the procedure to undergo an ultra sound of the fetus or the proposal to allow people to openly carry weapons.
All this political maneuvering has national implications. Sure, Arizona now has a stricter illegal-immigration law, but let’s face it: Oklahoma is no Arizona, and it doesn’t border Mexico. Oklahoma needs to present itself as a place that is tolerant, dynamic and welcoming to young people who want to start businesses or their careers here. The state, given the current population growth rate, can ill afford to alienate groups of people.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation on per-pupil spending in public schools, according to a recent report. It has the lowest per-pupil rate in the region. The state’s low funding rates are systemic and well known throughout the nation. Its college graduation rate continues to be below the national average. Everyone knows that. Recent budget cuts have increased the problem.
Oklahoma’s national image is in decline among the very people the state needs to attract, but don’t count on anything happening soon given the political extremism and anti-education bias here.