Children in Oklahoma deserve better

An old Jewish proverb tells us, “Taxes are the only things that grow without rain.”

Now a petition is out there to raise the sales tax in Oklahoma by 1 cent to increase funding to education. Folks, did you know we already have the sixth highest state and local sales tax in the country? Increasing the sales tax would put Oklahoma right at the top.

I don’t know about you, but higher sales taxes seem somehow counter productive to attracting businesses here who already pay 47 percent of  Oklahoma’s  taxes.

“How does this help our small businesses invest and grow?”

I guess people who support this idea forget that local ad valorem (property taxes) support over 40 percent of our funding for schools.  The other 50 percent comes from the state, with only 10 percent from the federal government.

“How does raising the sales tax help education with increased costs for goods and services and decreased buying power for all Oklahomans.?”

I must be missing something here – but I don’t think so.

Everyone in Oklahoma wants better performing schools and higher graduation rates…right? But does anybody really believe that after 30 years of disappointing results in Oklahoma schools, that just throwing more money at the problem is going to guarantee higher graduation rates and ACT scores? If that were the case, the additional $536 million the Legislature appropriated a few years back and the state lottery certainly would have solved the problem.

The lottery has provided $685 million to schools since 2005 and our schools are better today – right? I must be missing something here – but I don’t think so.

The fact of the matter is this proposal would raise $615 million a year but over 30 percent or more would go directly to higher education and other programs without ever getting the money to the classroom where it is truly needed.

Sales taxes are “regressive” by their nature anyway and hurt the poor and lower income families in our state the most. How does this plan help those families who are trying to climb out of poverty? It is insidious. Just more of the same “shell games” with the taxpayers’ money which hurts Oklahoma. Families have been pleading for years for a return on investment (roi) of the $ 3.6 billion they spend on education in our $7.1 billion state appropriated budget.  That’s over 50 percent of our budget. I must be missing something here – but I don’t think so.

“We all want to fund education properly.”

We spend almost more than all industrialized nations combined here in the United States on education but everyone will agree we are not in any way reaping the benefits of our investment.

If we really want to help our teachers in Oklahoma here are some simple ideas. Let’s start requiring accountability and efficiency in our educational financial decisions. How about some financial transparency and oversight? How about Family Education Savings Accounts? Let’s push “school choice” so children can attend the public or nonprivate school of their choice. That creates a more competitive, cost-effective, quality education and reduces class sizes. It’s amazing how the free market can drive costs down and increase salaries.

Start implementing rigorous and more creative alternative certifications for our teachers to meet the growing education standards needed for tomorrow’s job market. How about increased local control, which allows for results driven funding by the districts themselves?.

What about addressing teacher shortages like the “free market” does – by paying wages based on supply and demand. Incentivize teachers who are actually getting kids to learn and not just those who have tenure or advanced degrees. It’s long past time for some school boards and administrators to grow a backbone and give their teachers support in maintaining discipline in their classrooms without the constant fear of litigation.

It’s also well past time for the Oklahoma educational system to get down to the basics. And, you know what – I assure you – the funding will follow.

“Do you know of anyone who doesn’t like to invest in a successful enterprise that has a strong return on investment?”

Milton Friedman, the great economist once said, “Education spending is most effective when it relies on parental choice and private initiative – the building blocks of success throughout our society.”

Don’t our kids at least deserve our education dollars being spent wisely? Raising taxes will never solve this problem – only exacerbates it further. Our schools and kids deserve better.