Monday, December 17, 2007

by Steve Fair

Corn Pone: (pon), n bread made of corn meal: this word is used mainly in the South.
Websters New World Dictionary and Student Handbook

State Senator Kenneth Corn, (D-Poteau) has filed a bill that would give every high school graduate in Oklahoma two free years in higher education. Under Corn’s legislation, any Oklahoma high school graduate would be eligible to attend any of twelve two-year colleges or twenty-nine career techs located throughout the state free regardless how much their parents earn. Corn says, “it’s going to take bold action to dramatically increase the number of college graduates in Oklahoma.” Increasing the number of college graduates in the state is a worthy goal, but Corn’s proposal has a number of problems.

First, Corn’s proposal is not really new. It is already being done- in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Beginning in the fall of 2007 semester, Oklahoma City Community College and Tulsa Community College started offering free tuition to children in their areas. The “Tulsa Achieves” program gives free tuition to any high school grad from Tulsa County. OCCC is doing the same thing for Oklahoma County. The program just started in the fall of 2007 and has been very successful. It’s been so good that some of the states four-year schools are saying the program is hurting their enrollment. Corn wants to roll the freebie program statewide. He estimates doing that would cost $20 million annually. The estimate appears to be low, since it cost over 2 million annually just in the TA program.

Another ongoing program available to low income household children is OHLAP (Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program). OHLAP aka taxpayers provides free tuition for kids whose family household income is less than $50,000, but the free tuition comes with some serious academic requirements starting in eighth grade. The “Tulsa Achieves” program requires a kid only maintain a “C” average to get the free tuition. TA also requires the kids to do forty hours of community service.

Second, who is going to pay for this program? Corn says the program will cost $20 million per year, but that estimate is low. The answer is obvious- the taxpayers are going to be ones to foot the bill. Instead of Corn trying to give our money to people who didn’t work for it, why doesn’t he give it back to hard working Oklahomans? We certainly need some tax relief. Oklahomans pay a higher percent of our incomes in taxes than others in the region.

Thirdly, how does getting more of our children and education help the state? It certainly helps the child, but how does it help the state collectively? Based on last year’s data, seventy five percent of Oklahoma college graduates leave the state within five years of graduating from a state school. Why do they leave? They leave because there are no jobs in Oklahoma. Corn can thank his Democratic state legislative ancestors for creating a business environment that has Oklahomans earning $5,000 less per year than a Texan doing the same job.

Education- public and higher education- already receives a huge percentage of the Oklahoma budget and they are never satisfied. If one hundred percent of the state budget were allocated for education, the education lobby would still want more. Citizens and their leaders must recognize educating our children will not attract industry and jobs to the state. Reducing taxes, fixing our infrastructure, getting the lawyers out of workers comp, and tort reform will do much more to help our state than giving away college tuition. The teaching of personal responsibility and initiative to high schoolers instead of giving them something they didn't work for is much kinder and a wiser approach.

What Corn is really saying by proposing this NEW PROGRAM is there is twenty million of taxpayer dollars being taken from Oklahomans that is not needed by state government. Why doesn’t Ken do the moral and ethical thing and lead the charge to send me my money back?

What kind of message does this program send to the guy who just graduated from one of the two year schools, but now he has student loans to pay off? This is the Corn response “Too bad- you were too late.” What will really make the self starter/personal responsibility advocate feel better is when we tell him we are going to use his tax dollars to pay for the other guy’s tuition. Not good- I suspect.

Corn’s real motivation is not educating children. Ken is termed out in a couple of years and the rumor is that he is already planning his future. He’s looking at “higher” elective office. So Ken is trying to use our money to buy him some votes in the future. Not a bad strategy if you are only concerned with yourself, but Oklahomans shouldn’t let him get away with it. It’s our bread and not corn pone.

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