Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Innovative policy, not blank checks

"The midterm elections reinforced, once again, that voters may be pro-education but they’re also not spendthrifts," the state's largest newspaper editorializes today. "Oklahoma lawmakers should take note."
This spring, a teacher union rally drew around 25,000 people to the Oklahoma Capitol. Rally participants called for a 600 percent increase in taxes on horizontal drilling. Lawmakers ultimately ignored that demand. Voters rewarded tax increase opponents with solid re-election support this month.

In short, time and time again voters have rejected calls to increase taxes and spend more money on schools simply to spend more money. At the same time, they’ve rewarded politicians who support school choice and education reform. Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott was re-elected after expanding private school scholarships for low-income students, eliminating tenure and tying teacher pay to performance. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was re-elected after expanding vouchers and reforming collective bargaining.

In North Carolina, Thom Tillis was elected to the U.S. Senate after helping create a state voucher program. In Illinois, Bruce Rauner was elected governor. Rauner is a longtime proponent of charter schools who also supports teacher tenure reform and private school scholarships for poor children.

Notably, those Republican victories occurred either in Democratic blue states or highly competitive states. Yet in Republican-dominated Oklahoma, the only education initiative officials have recently touted is a vague promise to increase spending and teacher pay. Financial reality suggests there’s less to those promises than meets the eye. Proposed raises would cost $213.4 million. Last year’s state budget included around $290 million in one-time revenue sources that must be replaced simply to preserve existing appropriations.

More significantly, spending increases are — at best — status quo measures. Extra money may preserve the current system, but history shows it does little to improve educational achievement. Given that Oklahoma student performance ranks in the bottom 10 states, simply preserving the status quo is a form of failure.

To ensure that Oklahoma children get a quality education, lawmakers need to focus on policy. If Republicans in Democratic states can win on serious education reform, there’s no reason Republicans in one of the reddest states in the nation can’t do the same.

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