This is a recent letter to the Tulsa World regarding school funding.
Are Oklahoma schools heading into the light? by: TODD W. SINGER
Many rank and file politicians now repudiate any form of governmental appropriations for any American at any time. Presidential and congressional candidates display public disdain for federal earmarks and cast aspersions upon any elected official who dares to spend any of our tax dollars on any purported pet projects. It’s just plain un-American.
Oklahoma is 49th in the United States in per pupil expenditures. That means that 48 other states, which request and receive annual congressional earmarks, spend more education dollars on their students than Oklahoma.
This year our state Legislature again gave low priority to education funding. Appropriations for daily operating expenses such as utilities and gasoline for public schools have not been increased in the past 10 years, even though every legislator must be aware of the soaring energy prices. An opaque lottery funding formula obfuscates the ability to inspect the books and determine whether or not we can reconfigure Oklahoma’s lottery — Our Edsel of Opportunity.
There is no doubt Congress can trim much of the fat that has enabled the ballooning deficit, but do we expel the proverbial baby with the bath water?
Is it nobler to blindly decry the sins of purported waste or strike a watchful balance and secure robust funding for Oklahoma students who cannot read? Even if it’s more politically expedient to summarily reject all authorized appropriations, does that remediate a school’s erstwhile sewer lagoon or replace a rural district’s buses that were destroyed in a fire?
Does unreasoning antipathy for “pork” fund innovative AP curriculums or create programs that lower Oklahoma’s dropout rates in furtherance of sending more of our graduates to colleges and technology centers? Certainly, the foregoing are not wasteful and degenerate programs birthed in the smoke and cacophony- filled rooms of Capitol Hill.
Thanks to the independent efforts of U.S. Sen. James Inhofe and U.S. Reps. John Sullivan, Dan Boren,Mary Fallin, Frank Lucas and Tom Cole, earmarks are prudently reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Using greater discretion enables them to champion only worthy projects that, but for these efforts, would never have been possible. Through their advocacy, some Oklahoma schools now will not have to choose between retaining teachers or purchasing updated textbooks; servicing rising energy debt or providing special education programming.
Mark Twain once said: “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” Oklahoma is witnessing a renaissance in its educational institutions, lest we not prejudge all earmarks or it may be headed back to the dark ages. Time and informed voters will determine its future.
Todd W. Singer is president of Heartland Consulting, Inc. a lobbying firm that concentrates in education advocacy and appropriations.