Nine Days Remain to Fix the Budget

It is a dead certainty that in order to fill the budget hole, the legislature will take the easy way out – by raising or inventing new taxes.   It might be easy to say that we made a mistake when we lowered taxes all those years ago; but we can say so only with the benefit of hindsight.  How were we to know that oil revenues were going to decrease so dramatically?

It’s not as if we committed the same error that Brownback and the Kansas legislature did.  When they lowered taxes, they forgot to also decrease their spending.  At the time we lowered them, things were flush.  There was no reason to suppose that anything would come along to change that.

But now that we aren’t taking in enough money to fulfill our obligations, I suppose it would be reasonable to raise taxes.  However, I think that a good faith effort should be made for the state to decrease expenses further, if they are going to burden us with new taxes.  Meeting the issue halfway is only reasonable; if we have to tighten our belts and send the state more money, they should tighten their belts too.

What the budget needs for future stability and sustainability is a radical and substantial change in our spending habits as well; not just taxation.

I ask the legislature only this: that if a tax increase is necessary, that it be met with an equivalent effort at cutting spending.  For those who say that we’ve already cut as much as we can, and the tax increase is the only way, I say: nonsense.

Sensible cuts can still be made to the state’s education program.

 

I would propose a four part program to reduce expenditures across the board to a) balance the budget and b) possibly provide raises to teachers:

  1. Four day school weeks, statewide.
  2. Consolidation of school districts
  3. Increase of class sizes
  4. Elimination of taxpayer funded athletics.

This program is an all or nothing proposition.  It can only have it’s desired effect if the reforms are made at once, with each other.  I cannot say exactly, due to the unavailability on numbers and statistics, how much this would save the state.  To me, it doesn’t matter, as it would represent the aforementioned effort to meet the taxpayer halfway.  I would be content with a cut of say, a quarter for every dollar we raise in new taxes.

First, we have to ask ourselves: what is really a necessity?  What is the intent of the public education?  And then we have to ask ourselves, with each of the four components of this program: How might this really impact education?  Two are easy: four day school weeks and elimination of athletics would not at all impact the quality of our education.

  1. Four day school weeks.

I have already made the argument for this reform in a past article.  I’ll go into a little more detail here.

The gasoline savings from not bussing in students every friday could be about $100,000 per district that runs twenty five busses – it could be even more for districts that run more busses than that.  Further, it would be less expenses in utilities, food, and would give teachers one day per week entirely dedicated to grading or preparing the next week’s material.

Naturally, in order to satisfy the requirement for 180 days of the school year, the school day would have to be extended Monday through Thursday.  However, this would not result in any added expense, as the students are already transported to and from the school campuses those days anyway.

2. Consolidation of school districts

This has been thrown around before, but nothing has come of it – most probably because it would mean bureaucrats would loose their jobs.  But, it would mean a savings of over $9 million, if the excess administrators and bureaucrats were cut from the budget.

3. Increase of class sizes.

In April, in his editorial of SoonerPolitics.org, David van Risseghem, put forth an ingenious plan to increase teacher salaries by also increasing class sizes.  Instead of re-hashing it here, here’s the original editorial:

http://www.soonerpolitics.org/editorial/oklahoma-education-spends-more-than-california-per-child

4. Elimination of taxpayer funded athletics

This might be a harder pill to swallow for Oklahomans, but so is a non-balanced budget.  Truthfully, how can we really justify taxpayer funded athletics?

Supporters will tell you that it gins up revenue by advertising and ticket sales to events.  While that might cover uniforms and other equipment, there is no way that it could come close to funding building costs for athletic buildings, coach salaries, etc.

And it is true that coaches do teach normal classes, they cannot teach with the same effectiveness as teachers that are dedicated to that subject.  The salaries that are received are considerable – what is being received in return, in terms of education?

The only substantive reasons I have heard in opposition to, say, the four day school week proposal, is that it would result in “bad PR.”

Quality of education isn’t a concern (as everyone knows the quality of education does not depend on amount of days per week students attend school) but heaven forbid, bad PR!  However, no matter what the state does, it will inevitably result in bad PR.

The constituency wants better education funding, increased teacher salaries, more teachers, more investment in national parks, etc., but they also want fewer and lower taxes.  When, inevitably, the state government can’t deliver on this, the constituency will moan and groan: bad PR.

So, I say to the legislators: make meaningful reforms regardless of “bad PR” because that’s what you’re going to have, no matter what you do.

 

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