EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a continuing series of stories focusing on State Question 744. The previous installment published in Saturday’s Edmond Sun and at edmondsun.com.
State Question 744 does not set any requirements for performance and achievement in common education, said state Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond.
An initiative petition supported by the Oklahoma Education Association, SQ 744 would repeal a section of the state Constitution. It would require the state to meet the regional per pupil average for common education spending in public schools. This state question will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.
“It is also difficult to tie our hands to the decisions of people who are not elected by Oklahomans, and base our funding on their decisions,” McDaniel said.
Oklahoma legislators allocate $8,006 per student in comparison to the average regional per-pupil expenditure of $9,663, according to figures based on the National Education Association’s ranking and estimates.
“Before we start putting a bunch more money in common education, we need to make sure the current money we are spending is being done correctly,” said Peter J. Rudy, communications director of Oklahomans for a Responsible Government.
The state of Arkansas began a major investment program in public education in 2001 that improved their per-pupil expenditure above the national average. Student achievement improved in Arkansas with 35 percent more students passing their high school graduation tests, said Joel Robison, chief lobbyist for the Oklahoma Education Association.
“Now they’re in the top 10 of many educational measurements,” he said.
Oklahomans will continue to rely on local school districts and the Legislature to improve efficiency if voters approve SQ 744 on Nov. 2, Robison continued. The measure would allow local school districts to choose how they spend the new money, he said.
“It could be done for many different things, lower class sizes, technology. We want to keep and recruit quality teachers in Oklahoma,” Robison said. “Far too often, our teachers go to greener pastures in Arkansas, Texas; places that pay quite a bit of additional money.”
Oklahoma teachers are ranked 19th in the nation in salary when their cost of living adjustment is considered, according to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
However, Robison said nothing in SQ 744 would prevent the funding from increasing the salaries of administration and school superintendents.
SQ 744 states, “the Education Oversight Board and the Office of Accountability shall publish an annual report on the expenditure of common education revenue, which shall include reports regarding the expenditures for classroom instruction and for administrative costs.”
Salaries of superintendents have increased collectively by more than $1 million during the past year during a time when school districts are cutting budgets, said Brian Downs, executive director of Oklahomans for Responsible Government.
Downs suggested the state could save money by consolidating many of its 530 school districts. Oklahoma has more school districts than Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee combined, Downs said.
In Edmond, Superintendent David Goin’s base salary is $159,832 and he earned a 2 1/2 percent raise in September with his total compensation package for the 2009-10 year at $178,506, according to a previous report in The Edmond Sun. Goin’s salary figure includes organizational memberships, health insurance, life insurance and retirement benefits. Other Edmond administrators also received an average of 2 1/2 percent pay raise.
Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt said recently at an economic symposium at the University of Central Oklahoma that he expects across-the-board layoffs to occur among school districts. So far Edmond Public Schools has been spared teacher layoffs. But the Tulsa Public School District eliminated more than 220 certified teachers in March, according to the Tulsa Public Board of Education.
Passage of SQ 744 would bring $24 million more for the Edmond school system, Rudy said.
A House study found SQ 744 would result in a 40 percent tax increase or a 22 percent hit across the board of every state agency, said Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle. An $850 million to $1 billion increase of spending would be required, Osborn noted.
“While the petitioners of State Question 744 may be well-intended, the question is irresponsible — it is a zero-sum game where one budget component benefits to the detriment of the other vital state services like transportation, public safety and health care,” said state Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond.
The state Legislature has a constitutional requirement to divide the general revenue fund, Osborn said. Education currently receives 51 percent of the state’s budget when including career tech and higher education, she said. Thirty-six percent of the state budget is allocated for K-12.
Voter approval of SQ 744 would amount to a constitutional earmark of 50 percent of state appropriations to common education. The SQ 744 measure does not direct how the money will be spent by the Department of Education except that it will not be used for building funds, Osborn said.
“If this state question is approved, the people’s representatives will not be able to prioritize competing needs and will have no say on the largest single component of the state’s budget,” Miller said. “Instead, education policy will be arbitrarily set by a rigid regional formula.”