State Question 779 is unsatisfactory solution to Oklahoma’s education budget crisis (OU Daily)

By Paula Schonauer 

I can’t believe I am contemplating voting “no” on something that would give teachers a pay raise. At times I am fully against State Question 779, but at other times I waffle, left wondering about how its failure will affect our teachers and students in the immediate future. When I think about voting “yes,” it is only because I am loath to deny teachers a deserved pay raise, but it will feel like a Faustian bargain.

State Question 779 is an attempt to rescue the Oklahoma state legislature from its neglect. I can see it no other way. It is a mere Band-Aid applied to a gaping wound that has festered for decades, bleeding money and resources from institutions that support our state’s children and the future they represent.

The Oklahoma State Legislature has incrementally reduced funding for public education, creating a crisis of learning, a dearth of teaching and a threat to our intellectual viability. The less we invest in ourselves, the less we’ll see others wanting to invest in Oklahoma. It’s a simple principle any capitalist should easily understand. If we want to keep talent in Oklahoma, if we want to attract talent from elsewhere, we must demonstrate that we have the resources and knowledge to meet the demands of a high-tech world and a sophisticated global market.

So, yes, one can argue State Question 779 represents an investment in education, but, really, it is only another quick-fix proposition addressing a problem that hasn’t gone away with other quick-fix measures. Does anyone remember the Education Lottery? Wasn’t it supposed to generate enough revenue for our education system to stay well-funded for decades to come?

Looking back, though, it is obvious the lottery has been a failure. It did not fix our education issues. Indeed, it may have contributed to our current malaise by providing a rationalization for legislators to keep making funding cuts. The lottery has also contributed to a culture of gambling that hurts the poor. According to a March 2011 article in the Journal of Gambling Studies, poor people are the leading patrons of the lottery.

A 1-cent sales tax increase will burden low- and moderate-income households more than wealthy households, the very definition of a regressive tax. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the passage of State Question 779 will continue a trend that has created one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation.


I worry about the passage of State Question 779 because it may ultimately contribute to the dismantling of public education by providing an excuse for people to oppose the funding of local education bonds. Also, though the language in the measure prohibits State Question 779 from supplanting other education funding, I expect legislators will continue to make cuts in the future.

If I end up voting for State Question 779, I will do so because it provides immediate relief to struggling educators who are underpaid and understaffed, but doing so will feel like making a bargain with the devil. My only hope is that we will finally start electing legislators who will protect public education, who will really put our students first.

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