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Plenty of reasons to nix education funding measure

Plenty of reasons to nix education funding measure

OUR VIEWS: State Question 744

The Oklahoman Editorial

Published: September 24, 2009

When a legislative hearing about a proposed education funding initiative concludes today, we’ll have an even clearer picture of how the question’s passage would affect the state and its citizens. The likely conclusion? It will be bad. Very, very bad.

The question would just be more money poured into a system that for $2 billion-plus a year already fails to produce the kind of educated citizens the state desperately needs.

That’s the only logical answer when even supporters of State Question 744 say it eventually will require the state to spend at least $850 million more per year on common education. Common education already receives more than a third of the state’s nearly $7 billion budget. State fiscal staff told the budget committee hearing Tuesday that to generate the $850 million, Oklahoma’s income tax rate would have to be increased from 5.5 percent to about 7.35 percent or a similarly dramatic increase in the state sales tax would be needed.

Another option would be to slash the budgets of other state agencies, which no doubt would cut into services available for Oklahomans. State agency heads will go before the committee today to discuss what such cuts would mean for the agencies and the people they serve.

Oklahomans have a lot to learn about SQ 744, which will likely be on a ballot next year. And no doubt they’ll be hearing a lot from the Oklahoma Education Association, which circulated the initiative petition and obtained the necessary signatures to put the question on the ballot. But truth is Oklahomans literally can’t afford to get so caught up in the idea that schools need more money that they ignore the fiscal reality of passing the measure.

It’s disingenuous to hear the question’s supporters talk about their calls for more money falling on deaf legislative ears. That’s simply not true. In 2004, lawmakers decided to pay for teachers’ health insurance. Then for the next three years, teachers received state-funded pay raises. They wanted more, of course, and sued the state to try to force the Legislature to increase school funding. The lawsuit failed so the OEA turned to the initiative petition, with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from the National Education Association.

There are other issues, too. Passage would give lawmakers little wiggle room in setting state financial priorities. As Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond, put it, legislators "will have no say on the largest single component of the state’s budget.”

And then there’s the matter of what, exactly, Oklahomans would get for their $850 million. Nothing in the question requires reform. It would just be more money poured into a system that for $2 billion-plus a year already fails to produce the kind of educated citizens the state desperately needs.

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