BY DAVID PERRYMAN
There are phrases that are used to illustrate that whatever you call something, it doesn’t change what it is. In Shakespeare’s age, it was “A Rose by any other name is still a Rose.” Some areas of the country say “Put a Bow on It.” In rural Oklahoma, when we recognize that using fancy names and wishing on stars doesn’t change reality. Thus, “Putting Lipstick on a Pig,” doesn’t turn a stinking swine into a princess.
The reality is that Oklahoma’s state government has put us in a bind. Over the past dozen years, reckless cuts to mental health funding and education have placed us in a situation that will take decades to recover.
Allowing the oil and gas industry to destroy our highways, roads and streets and proliferate the occurrences of earthquakes has placed a repair burden on counties and municipalities that they cannot pay.
Barring the ability of local governments to protect their citizens from the devastating effects of oil and gas drilling activities adjacent to their homes has collectively reduced residential property values by millions of dollars.
Refusing to increase the percentage of Oklahomans who have health insurance from 49th[leading only the state of Texas] by accepting federal funds continues to devastate Oklahoma hospitals, ambulance services and ancillary medical services.
The list goes on and on.
Enter Gov. Kevin Stitt, who announced that he plans to make Oklahoma a Top 10 state. That is a laudable goal, but doing so takes more than just providing lip service. As Oklahomans, we are a proud people. It rubs us the wrong way when anyone criticizes our home state.
The first thing that Gov. Stitt needs to do is get past the partisan rhetoric and accept federal Medicaid dollars that we are sending to Washington, DC.
Currently, all but 14 states are doing so and those 36 states that are doing so are not facing hospital closures and the bankruptcy of ambulance services. Better health outcomes by allowing more Oklahomans access to health care is a prime example of how to put Oklahoma on a path toward becoming a Top 10 state.
Better health outcomes include improved mental health services and substance abuse treatment. Oklahoma ranks 3rdin the nation [22.4% of all Oklahomans] for citizens having some degree of mental illness. Also, Oklahoma ranks 2ndin the nation [11.9% of all Oklahomans] for citizens having substance abuse disorders. That means that between 700,000 and 950,000 adult Oklahomans need services. Many of those would be eligible for services if Oklahoma accepted those federal dollars.
Another step toward becoming a Top 10 state would be to improve funding to Oklahoma’s public schools, particularly across rural Oklahoma, by curtailing low performing charter schools that advertise for students and have dismal graduation rates. In fact, for the 2016-17 school year, the state’s largest virtual charter school – Epic – had a 36% graduation rate. Insight had a 30% graduation rate; Connections Academy 44%, and the Virtual Charter Academy 43%.
The statewide public school average graduation rate was 83%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern which the best bargain is.
Now the lieutenant governor wants to improve Oklahoma’s state slogan and to make Oklahomans spend billions of dollars again replacing former Gov. Mary Fallin’s hideous “scissortail” license plates. Tell them that becoming a Top 10 state will require real change that will affect the quality of life of all Oklahomans and that the answer is not just covering the situation up with a pretty bow.
– Chickasha Democrat David Perryman represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House and serves as minority floor leader