Currently common education gets thirty six percent of the Oklahoma state annual budget- by far the largest allocation of any agency. If SQ 744 passes, common education would receive nearly one half of the state budget.
The actual ballot language for SQ 744 is:
The last sentence of the measure is very revealing. Passage of the proposal would create an “unfunded” mandate. SQ 744 would require the state to provide funding, but suggests no method on how to get those funds. Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget committee State Representative Ken Miller, R-Edmond, says, “While the petitioners of State Question 744 may be well-intended, the question is irresponsible-it is a zero-sum game where one budget component benefits to the detriment of the other vital state service like transportation, public safety and health care. If this state question is approved, the people’s representatives will not be able to prioritize competing needs and will have no say on the largest single component of the state’s budget. Instead education policy will be arbitrarily set by a rigid regional formula.”
Realistically, if SQ 744 passed, the legislature would be forced to either raise taxes or reduce funding to other agencies to meet the requirement 744 would mandate. Some estimates of other agency cuts range as high as twenty percent. According to the State House fiscal staff, if SQ # 744 passes, personal income tax would have to be raised from its current level of 5.5% to more than 7% to raise the money SQ 744 mandates.
Here are just three reasons State Question 744 should not be approved:
First, forcing state government to increase funding to common education based on what bordering states are doing will not improve Oklahoma education. Oklahoma has a more fundamental problem- it is how we spend our education dollar. We have too many school districts. Oklahoma has 554 school districts, Kansas 304, Arkansas 271, Colorado 178 and New Mexico only has 84. Each of Oklahoma’s five hundred plus districts have buildings, buses and bosses. Consolidation is not a word anyone likes to utter, but if education wants to get serious about education and get the money to the classroom where it really makes a difference, the “C” word will have to discussed.
Second, education funding is not the only thing we need to improve in Oklahoma. Our state has crumbling infrastructure that is dangerous for school buses(or any other vehicle) to travel on. Oklahoma also ranks high in mental health issues, obesity, and drug use. If SQ 744 passes, either huge tax increases would need to be implemented or those infrastructure and social ills would face funding cuts. Neither alternative seems wise concerning these tough economic times.
Third, Oklahoman’s tax burden is high enough. According to The Tax Foundation, Oklahoma's taxpayers have gone from the 42nd highest state and local tax burden in 1977 to the 19th highest in 2008. Estimated at 9.8% of income, Oklahoma's current state/local tax burden is above the national average. Oklahomans pay $3,761 per capita in state and local taxes.
It is true that teachers are underpaid in Oklahoma. They rank a dismal 47th in the country among their peers, but all Oklahoma workers are unpaid. The average Oklahoman earns $5,000 less than the average American doing the same job. US Census data indicates that only two of our bordering states have lower per capita income than Oklahoma, but SQ # 744 is not the answer- it just creates more questions.