This article appeared in the Muskogee Phoenix on August 14th. I'm sure Representative Cannaday will be roundly criticized for his thoughts. I appreciate his input about HOPE and all teachers should thank him at email@example.com.
Legislative hypocrisy evident in petition
By Rep. Ed Cannaday
As a former government teacher, I have been skeptical of government by petition and referendum in that it is often used by legislators to defer their constitutional responsibility to govern through legislation.
Submitting an issue to a vote of the people to amend the state Constitution provides the lawmakers with “plausible deniability” rather than “legislative accountability.”
However, this has become the pattern in Oklahoma law-making practices on major controversial issues. An example of this is the restriction placed on the ability of the Legislature to raise revenue and put tax cuts in place in a manner that will ensure their continued existence and growth.
It is, therefore, ironic that those who have supported this type of governing are now opposed to the Oklahoma Education Association’s petition drive to have a constitutional question put before the vote of the citizens. This is referred to as HOPE or Helping Oklahoma Public Education, which will ensure that the state funds public schools at the regional average. If it were to become part of our Constitution, it would put into reality positions taken by both our governor and Legislature.
Specifically, I refer to the commitment to “fund education first” and provide funding for our students at a level equal to that of our six neighboring states.
Currently, Oklahoma funds the education of each of its public school students at a rate of $1,400 less than the regional average. I have yet to hear a person in or out of government state: “I want our student’s education to be fiscally inferior to those in neighboring states.”
However, the Legislature refuses to correct this morally indefensible position by providing the funds needed while voting sweetheart tax incentives to professional athletes, deep well gas drilling operations and those purchasing rare metals. This is made worse by the cumulative effects of the escalating tax cut programs to the most wealthy individuals and corporations.
The current criticism of this petition drive seems to focus on three issues.
First, if passed it is alleged that it will result in rural school consolidations. That does not make sense. If a school is consolidated with another, the students do not disappear. Thus, the funding per student would not be altered by consolidation.
Second, we are told if passed, it will result in massive tax increases. As stated in my opening, this has been restricted by their previous constitutional petition initiatives. If passed this may cause the legislative leadership to stop expanding their tax cut agenda as we have witnessed the past several years.
After providing massive tax cuts to the wealthiest individuals and corporations of Oklahoma, it is a sad commentary to have a legislative leader quoted to suggest that if this becomes constitutional, the Legislature will “raise taxes on working families.” Two years ago, several legislators were calling for “Honesty in funding education” and all we have had in response is the antithesis of this.
Third, we are told that this will result in reductions in state services. After seven years of ignoring the payroll needs of our state employees and being required to pass a $300,000 bond for maintaining our state roads and bridges, we are currently in need of reassessing our funding priorities.
The fundamental question that must be asked is “Do we want our children’s education to continue to be funded below the regional average or 48th in the nation?”
If you want this, then merely don’t sign the petition or vote against it in 2010 when it may be submitted to a state vote. Above all, admit that your opposition is based on your true desire that our students’ education should be “fiscally inferior” to that of our neighboring states’ children.