– By Cindy Decker –
The facts clearly show that our State is investing far less in K-12 education than other states. Oklahoma is 49th in total per pupil expenditures. We are 48th in teacher pay and as a result, teachers are leaving the state or the profession and fewer college graduates are entering the profession.
And, the trend is going in the wrong direction. State funding for education has decreased nearly 10 percent from Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 to FY 2016, while enrollment in public school has increased nearly 8 percent. Further cuts are a certainty for FY 2017.
What explains the ability of lawmakers to fail to adequately fund education? Is this truly the preference of registered voters? It appears not. A poll of 500 voters from March 2015 showed that 74 percent of Oklahomans think Oklahoma is not spending enough on education.
How is it possible that legislators are not aligned with registered voters? One large possibility is low voter turnout. Barely one in three adults voted in the 2014 midterm elections. Among adults 45 and under (the typical ages with children in K-12), the ratio was only one voter in five adults. And, voters are much more likely to have a college degree and to have higher household income. If lawmakers represent those who support their campaigns and vote, they are representing a biased slice of our society who may have a preference for lower taxes over-funding education. In a way, this is no fault of their own.
On the other side of the coin, the characteristics necessary to be elected might de facto mean our legislators are out of touch with the average citizen. To win my recent campaign to the Tulsa Public School’s board, I had to have personal money up front to loan to the campaign, or some large donations to get things started. I had to have a job that allowed me to come into the office late after a campaign-related meeting and to take calls and write emails during my workday for my campaign. Who has both money saved to put toward a campaign and work flexibility? Not the “average” Oklahoman who, statistics show, doesn’t have a college degree and who has an average yearly household income of $48,000.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SUPPORT EDUCATION?
We the people can make change. BUT, it requires work from all of us and time.
- We must all vote and convince others to vote. With early and absentee voting and the polls open from 7am-7pm, there are few legitimate excuses.
- We must learn who our legislators are and email, phone, and visit them so they know our thoughts. Visit OK Policy at www.okpolicy.org to learn more.
- We must support other groups such as the Together Oklahoma coalition http://togetherok.org and the Oklahoma Education Coalition.
- We must convince people who support funding public education and can mobilize a huge network to run for state office.
- We must ensure that our schools are teaching children the importance of voting.