In the spirit of full and vigorous debate on state policy issues, OK Policy is pleased to post this guest blog by Michelle Cantrell challenging our position on State Question 744. Michelle is the mother of three boys in the public school system, and a frequent volunteer at school. She also volunteers for various other organizations, including the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.
As a strong supporter of State Question 744, I would like to respond to the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s arguments against, and argue for, the proposal.
- State Question 744 will improve the overall economic health of the state, resulting in more revenue for all budget areas.
Increasingly, when looking to relocate, companies consider quality of life issues, including the public education system. When Oklahoma is competing with surrounding states to attract businesses, ranking dead last in school expenditures is a huge strike against us. According to the Economic Policy Institute, there is a direct correlation between spending on primary and secondary schools and the business climate, and increased spending can increase property values. Investing in education “is the best way to achieve faster growth, more jobs, greater productivity, and more widely shared prosperity.”
Failing to provide appropriate spending for education can cost our state more in other areas. An OECD report summarizing studies of non-economic benefits of education states that education results in better overall health and greater life expectancy. Further, parents with more education have children with higher cognitive development and higher future earnings. People with more education are more likely to save money and make better consumer choices, and are less likely to rely on public assistance even when they are entitled to that assistance. They also are less likely to engage in criminal activity. Increased spending can lead to reduced student drop out rates, which ultimately increases lifetime wages. The amount of lost income from a student who drops out is staggering—the loss of lifetime earnings from students who dropped out in just one year in Oklahoma was almost 4 billion dollars. Thus, inadequately funding schools could ultimately result in higher costs for healthcare, public benefits, law-enforcement, and prisons. Short-changing schools is penny-wise and pound-foolish.
- State Question 744 will continue to allow our elected officials discretion while still protecting our children’s education.
For too long, Oklahoma’s elected officials have approached the budget process backwards when it comes to education by first asking how much money the state has and then looking for areas to cut. SQ 744 reverses that process. If the bill is passed, our legislature will determine the minimum amount that must be spent for our state to remain competitive in the region and for our children to receive a decent education. Then they will determine how to get there. The amendment does not dictate the exact amount of spending—it merely sets a minimum based upon the surrounding states, repealing the current, outdated minimum of $42 per capita and replacing it with one that recognizes the current costs of education and allows us to compete with surrounding states.
Basing school expenditures upon the averages of surrounding states is more logical than basing it upon fickle economic cycles. The amount my children’s school receives should be based upon competing with the surrounding states and providing a decent education, not whether the stock market went up or down. The only discretion that elected officials will give up is the discretion to cut education spending below a level that is competitive with surrounding states.
- State Question 744 is necessary to provide long-term education planning for our state.
Our state has eighteen short years to educate our children and produce adults that are college or career-ready and ready to compete for jobs in an increasingly competitive world. Every year is critical, yet almost every year there is another budget crisis. The yearly fluctuation in funding prohibits long term planning for the well-being of our children. A reliable, consistent funding amount will allow our elected officials, school administrators, and teachers to make long-term plans for the success of our children. How can you plan to turn around test scores when you don’t even know how many teachers you will have in any given year? Education is not like roads and highways. In times of economic crises, a few potholes can be endured. But a missed year for education has long-term consequences and costs. Children in our state must have the opportunity for a decent education in order to succeed, and each year is critical to their success.
- If the six surrounding states can adequately fund education, Oklahoma can too.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute presents hypothetical numbers to show how educational spending would drastically increase, reducing spending on other social programs. However, this does not mean that other programs will not grow. In fact, under their own hypothetical, there would be money left over for growth in other programs in every year but one. The hypothetical increase in education spending is deducted exclusively from the state’s budget, even though money for education comes from multiple areas that are likely to increase as well. In fact, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, local expenditures, which typically make up 23-25 percent of school funding, have traditionally increased at 7 percent per year. Assuming the $5.06 billion in total expenditures given by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, one can presume approximately $1.2 billion is derived from local funding. Factoring that amount into equation, with an annual increase of 7 percent, results in a substantial reduction in the amount of state budget money going to education—around $260 million less than the Oklahoma Policy Institute claims:
|Total Education||Local||State & Federal|
|FY 12 increase||392,000,000||81,422,064||310,577,936|
|FY 13 increase||415,000,000||87,121,609||327,878,391|
|FY 14 increase||889,000,000||93,220,121||795,779,879|
Factoring in federal dollars, which are also likely to increase, would further reduce the state’s expenditures.
I agree with Oklahoma Policy Institute that other departments, such as healthcare, are under funded. But to presume that educational increases will only come at the cost of other departments is conjecture. After all, if surrounding states are able to manage funding schools at a similar average, why wouldn’t Oklahoma?
There always are reasons for not spending more money on education. However, those reasons must be weighed against the benefits. Overall, if Oklahoma is to compete for business, ensure its economic viability, discourage the continual cycle of poverty, and decrease its prison population, we must invest in public education. Those who believe that education should be our highest priority should vote yes on SQ 744.
The opinions stated above are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here. Click here for a complete list of State Questions on the ballot in November.