Governors will come and go in four years, but constitutional amendments can last generations. In this election then, perhaps despite all the energy on candidates, we need to review the lasting effects of the state questions before us on November 6th. The lasting effects of State Question 801 could negatively impact Oklahoma children for decades.
The voices of warning were not loud enough when we passed a constitutional change that made new revenue last spring nearly impossible. Grave consequences were not spelled out that a simple majority could cut us to the bone, but getting a supermajority to increase funding when we were faltering would be questionable.
SQ801 that Oklahomans will vote on November 6 is well-intentioned but not well thought-out in relation to the consequences on our public schools for three primary reasons.
One, we are either for all Oklahoma children, or we’re not. There is no middle ground here. If we believe the framers of our state constitution, we should provide for all the children of the state of Oklahoma.
The rise of inequity from haves to have-nots is something our equalization formula has sought to fix across our state due to the deeply rooted faith and beliefs of Oklahomans that we value all children.
However, SQ801 will lead us away from God’s common good for all children. Children that live in wealthy districts will begin to see more and more advantages and children in poor districts will see less advantages.
Currently there are only a handful of districts in our state that do not already use their building fund to the maximum, and there are many ways to use it for building-related expenses like insurance, maintenance staff on the facilities, and repairs that happen regularly.
Secondly, by combining it with general operating funds, those schools who have the ability to do so will indeed be able to pay teachers more from those funds. The majority of school boards will now be placed in a tough spot: Give raises like the legislature suggests should be possible or pay to fix the leaking roof and black mold?
The legislature will be able to wash their hands and point back to our local school boards - as if the locally elected school board is at fault.
Finally, this adds no new funding to our schools. We will still be incredibly low and under the regional average in per pupil funding. And that’s in one of the lower regions across the United States. SQ801 would not change this in any way, but it does give our legislators the ability to point to something they’ve done to “help” public schools. SQ801 is no solution at all.
Oklahomans don’t believe only children in rich districts should be afforded resources and teachers. And so we send state aid to those who need it most, many times in rural areas, so that every child in our state is afforded a chance at a good quality education.
We are in this together. That’s why cooperation, rather than competition, speaks to our shared duty to educate our state’s children. If we truly believe God’s common good is for all people, then we cannot support a measure that forever alters our state constitution and promotes inequity for Oklahoma kids.