The Oklahoman editorial page has conceded the state’s low per-pupil spending ranking-49th in the nation and last in a seven-state region-is problematic and needs improvement.
But a recent editorial ( “Wanting better for schools, students not reason enough to support bad idea,” Oct. 12, 2010) fails to acknowledge what everyone here knows will happen if State Question 744 fails in November: Oklahoma schools will never have anything resembling average regional funding under the local right-wing political structure the newspaper supports. Never.
SQ 744, if passed, would raise per-pupil spending to the regional average. For years, Oklahoma’s education system has been drastically underfunded. It seems incredible that both Arkansas and New Mexico fund their schools at a higher rate than Oklahoma, but it’s true, according to different studies.
The Oklahoman has obsessively opposed the measure. Its editorial page is in the business of making sure the state’s wealthiest citizens get tax cuts and government, which includes public schools, gets cut.
The price tag for the funding increase has been placed at $850 million to $1.7 billion annually, and that could bring about a budget crisis that might mean wealthy people will have to give up some special tax exemptions for their companies or forgo tax cuts until revenues rise enough to meet the new fiscal obligation. That simply won’t work for The Oklahoman and other state organizations, which support the interests of wealthy people.
By contrast, a recent report on Tulsa’s Newson6.com about state Treasurer Scott Meacham’s opposition to SQ 744 contained this information about tax breaks:
News On 6 reporter Ashli Sims checked the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s latest report and found there are billions of dollars in tax breaks and exemptions for individuals and corporations.
Specifically, there are $1.7 billion in tax exemptions for “sales to manufacturers,” including deposits for crates used to transport mushrooms, sales of returnable soft drink, beer and water containers, and machinery, materials and equipment used for coal mining.
The Oklahoman editorial, meanwhile, takes this position about the state’s 49th nationwide ranking in per-pupil spending:
Indeed the ranking is nothing to write home about. And it’s easy, as proponents of 744 often do, to proclaim that the ranking is proof lawmakers don’t care about education. That’s not true. What’s really missing in the debate over SQ 744 is an alternative plan.
So now the newspaper finally gets around to arguing that the “ranking is nothing to write home about.” That’s great. But it’s difficult to see how most lawmakers are concerned about public education given destitute-like school funding when compared to the nation and region. And how can there be an alternative plan when proposals for more tax cuts for wealthy people, which The Oklahoman supports, dominate the political scene?
The editorial makes this point:
Oklahomans want to support our schools and our teachers. We want teachers to have the materials and supplies they need. We want the best teachers paid as such. We want our children to have the best education possible to prepare them for college and life. Those are laudable wants. And the lack of a clear alternative to SQ 744 makes it more difficult to vote no.
The idea about wanting “children to have the best education possible to prepare them for college and life” is true enough I guess for most Oklahomans, but, again, The Oklahoman obscures its historical record.
This is how the Oklahoma Legislature, with the tacit approval of The Oklahoman editorial page, currently operates under its right-wing dominance: When the state is flushed with growing and significant revenues, it votes for tax cuts that primarily benefit the state’s wealthiest citizens while giving token increases to its education systems. When the inevitable fiscal downturn shows up, funding for public education, along with the rest of government, gets cut. This is the GOP playbook “starve-the-beast” strategy that has also been adopted by many Democrats and even some so-called progressives in the state as well.
It’s disingenuous for The Oklahoman not to acknowledge its major role in promoting this strategy when arguing about education funding. Here’s the bottom line: Educational funding will never be even marginally improved under the right-wing political climate in this state, which the newspaper wholeheartedly supports, unless voters pass SQ 744.
If voters in November reject something as reasonable as average regional funding for public education here, it will be up to another generation to try to solve the problem, and all the state bigwigs now coming out against SQ 744 know it.
Those of us who supported and voted for the measure can at least say we tried.