BY SHARON MARTIN
In the first minutes of Gov. Mary Fallin’s 2016 State of the State address, she called her policy-induced budget disaster “an economic crisis that is largely out of our control.” But don’t worry. “We can use this budget crisis to build a solid foundation for Oklahoma with meaningful fiscal reform that the state needs.”
This makes sense if by “out of our control” she is acknowledging that someone outside her office and the Legislature were behind the tax cuts and credits that gutted the treasury. Now, what does she mean by fiscal reform?
One of her ideas for replacing revenue lost to tax cuts is a use tax on previously exempted services. What services does she have in mind? Medical services? Automotive services? While the wealthiest Oklahomans pay less income tax, the rest of us will take up the slack if our heater goes out or our roof needs fixing?
She warned school administrators of mid-year cuts but wants to give teachers a raise.
Education cuts and teacher raises might make sense if you add consolidation. In our school, there are teachers with as many as 30 students. Research tells us that a class size of 14 to 18 students gives the best results. But if you double class size and give half as many teachers a $3,000 raise, you’ve saved money. Brilliant!
Since we’ve already dug ourselves a budget hole, let’s dig a little deeper with Education Savings Accounts. The governor proposes to take per-pupil funds from public schools and give them to parents who send their kids to private schools. There goes that raise.
Let’s sum it up: we have a financial crisis because we cut income taxes and we have a glut of oil that affects the value of one of our main commodities in Oklahoma. We like our tax cuts, so we’re going to raise taxes on the poor and middle class to keep them.
Our schools are starving for money, so we’re going to consolidate. That won’t save us any money, according to policymakers who have studied this, but we’ve already seen class size increase. And to save even more, we’re going to give part of our money to private schools where there is no accountability. And we’re going to give teachers a raise.
There. You have what passes for critical thinking in Oklahoma politics where public education is considered the enemy.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer