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Remedial Math for Legislators

May 17, 2012

This high school student gets it, but members of our legislature do not. You can’t raise revenue by cutting taxes. And as the Tulsa World points out, as revenue continues to decrease, it becomes harder and harder for school districts to implement the very reforms that state leaders are asking for.

School leaders around the state are hoping for a best case scenario that includes flat funding in 2012-13. In other words, remaining at a level of funding significantly less than four years ago would be a political victory. Tonight, leaders announced a tax reduction plan that will cut state revenues by $32.7 million the first year and $102 million the second.

Meanwhile, public education’s critics callously maintain the posture that all of this trimming around the edges is good for education. Even worse is when they insist that initiatives such as Common Core and Teacher Leader Effectiveness can be implemented in ways that are revenue-neutral. In all honesty, none of these people believe their own rhetoric. They want to “starve the beast,” as Grover Norquist would say. While Okie Funk has a more thorough discussion of why this is not the right time to lower the state income tax, I want to focus on why it is a bad thing for education.

During the last five years, the state has decreased funding to schools while the number of students enrolled has increased. (Data for the 2011-12 school year are not yet available.) This means that school districts have to rely to a greater extent on local and federal funds than before.

2011: $2,173,158,467             652,958 students

2010: $2,168,686,157             647,879 students

2009: $2,478,208,723             638,781 students

2008: $2,402,014,135             634,249 students

2007: $2,263,616,070             633,006 students

Eventually, the economy catches up with other funding sources as well. Then, districts such as Jenks have the ability to receive a huge donation from patrons. But what about Hollis and Boise City? What about Tulsa and Glenpool? It’s a good thing that communities with the means value education. We should always encourage that. However, education funding shortfalls can’t always be solved with a “bring your own” mentality.

This is public education. It’s a foundational construct in our state constitution. It’s the key to preserving our freedom. And the math just isn’t there.

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