The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

August 27, 2008

Tying education funding to other states’ fortunes foolish

The Helping Oklahoma Public Education (HOPE) campaign to boost school funding certainly has a commendable goal.

Who doesn’t want teachers to be paid well and kids in the classroom to have what they need to learn? You would be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to say they don’t want that.

However, is the way HOPE supporters, including Oklahoma Education Association and others, are going about it the best way?

The HOPE petition drive needs enough signatures to let the people of the state vote on an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution to tie per-pupil education spending to the regional average of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

If the petition drive gathers the nearly 139,000 valid signatures needed, we could vote on the proposal next year or by 2010 at the latest.

If everything falls into place and the question is approved by state voters, Oklahoma’s spending on common education — that’s kindergarten through 12th grade — would be mandated constitutionally to be the average of what the six neighboring states spend per pupil. If the average for neighboring states increases, Oklahoma’s spending would have to increase, too.

Currently, according to OEA figures, Oklahoma spends $6,900 per student, while the six neighboring states spend an average of $8,300.

We think tying our expenses to the fortunes of other states is foolish. Why would we let other states dictate our policies? We need to handle the situation by ourselves.

According to the state of Oklahoma, about 35 percent of the state’s budget is dedicated to common education. For fiscal year 2008, that amounted to more than $2.4 billion.

There obviously is something broken in the way Oklahoma schools are financed. The biggest culprit likely is the number of districts — more than 530 — we have, but with large rural areas, we can’t consolidate too much because of the hardship it would create on families and kids. Obviously, administration consolidation has to be an upfront issue, but for some reason, it’s one no one is willing to tackle.

What’s the answer? Remember, we also have a crisis situation with our roads and bridges. The Department of Corrections needs more money. Agencies providing social services are asking for more money. State employees haven’t had a pay raise in years. Our state is facing a lot of funding issues.

We say be wary when you are asked to sign this petition.

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