‘It Is About Our Kids’
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two essays by veteran Oklahoma educators analyzing State Question 779, the proposed one percent sales tax increase for public education that will appear on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot. The second essay will be posted tomorrow. Both first appeared in the September edition of The Oklahoma Observer.
BY JOHN THOMPSON
We definitely must vote Yes! on SQ 779. I wish we could cast our ballots with the certainty that we are making the right choice for the right reason. Voters must not be ambivalent, however. A No vote would be catastrophic. Oklahoma needs a huge turnout to vote for school funding, and get on track towards providing an educational and economic future for all of our kids.
Rarely do I comment on school finances. I focus on education policy, especially in regard to high-poverty Oklahoma City schools. Neither do I like to think of education funding in isolation. To build a just and promising future, teachers and school systems must join as team players with state and local social service providers and nonprofits in order to tackle complex and interconnected challenges. If this were merely a question of how to fund an increase in teacher salaries, I don’t know where I would come down in terms of the arguments by good Democrats and policy experts who question whether the sales tax is the proper tool.
Our teachers need a raise. They’ve gone a decade without one. Oklahoma invests 22% less than the rest of the region in per student funding, and we continue to cut education spending by as much or more as any state in the country. We face an exodus of teaching talent to neighboring states where teachers might be paid $10,000 more while living just a few miles across the border. Teachers need the $5,000 a year raise that SQ 779 would fund. But that is not the reason for taking the unusual step of raising sales taxes.
SQ 779 is not about teachers or other adults. It is about our kids. SQ 779 is a belated effort to rescue our poorest children’s educations. In some of Oklahoma’s most challenged districts, our schools could literally collapse. Rather than question the harm that a penny tax increase could inflict on cities and our poorest voters, we should ask about the price tag for rebuilding our most challenged schools in those cities. In fact, the defeat of SQ 779 could be a No vote on whether we care enough to salvage our most disadvantaged schools.
I know this will sound like hyperbole to some. Seventeen years ago, I wondered if business leaders were exaggerating when they briefed members of the MAPS for Kids bipartisan coalition. I was discreetly told that the MAPS effort to raise a temporary sales tax and property taxes was likely the last chance for the Oklahoma City Public School System. The OKCPS had suffered through too many years without passing bond issues and the bill for the chronic underfunding of schools was about to come due. If the voters did not support the tax increase, the next step would be to try to manage an orderly breakup of the district. Under such a situation, it would be unlikely that anything resembling adequate education options would be provided for our poorest children.
I saw real progress at John Marshall and in other OKCPS schools after the MAPS tax was passed, but then came No Child Left Behind. Teachers and ‘It Is About Our Kids’ | The Oklahoma Observer: