Education Funding Crisis Continues Unabated In Oklahoma

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A new study shows that Oklahoma continues to have a major education funding crisis and no amount of denial by Gov. Mary Fallin’s office is going to make it go away.

In its study, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that per student spending has dropped in Oklahoma by 23.6 percent since 2008. This means, adjusting for inflation, the state spends $857 less per student each year. The decline is the steepest in the nation.

The second steepest decline is in Alabama where per student funding has dropped by 17.8 percent, according to the study. The study shows that, in all, 35 states have cut per student funding since 2008.

The cut in education funding undermines the rosy picture of Oklahoma’s economy and quality of life often depicted by Fallin in her reelection campaign. What we have in Oklahoma is a full-fledged crisis in which our schools simply don’t have enough money to operate effectively.

A spokesperson for Fallin, a Republican, said the study “exaggerates” the cuts, according to a story on, because the cuts came after all-time high funding for education before the 2008-2009 recession, which caused an immediate major budget shortfall. The spokesperson, according to the study, also said the study doesn’t account for other forms of school funding from the state. Even if these points are conceded, school funding here is remarkably dismal given the state’s economy and teacher salaries here are among the worst in the nation.

Fallin, who is facing an unexpectedly tight race for reelection from her Democratic opponent Joe Dorman, said she’s committed to increasing funding for schools and raising teacher salaries, according to the story, yet in her tenure as governor she has consistently pushed for income tax cuts and approved of major tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

It’s impossible to reconcile the position of pushing to lower state revenue while adequately increasing funding for education. For that to happen, funding for some other aspect of state government, such as corrections or social services, would have to be drastically cut.

In addition, Fallin has also approved of high-stakes testing in our public schools at the same time state government is starving the educational system of funding. This is terribly unfair. I believe it’s also part of a deliberate conservative strategy to ensure schools “fail” by some nebulous measure. Overall, starving schools of money while pushing for senseless high-stakes testing can only be construed as a deliberate attack on public education.

Right now, we have a teacher shortage in our state and growing class sizes in many of our schools. It’s a crisis that could affect the quality of education for an entire generation of students as the years go by without a major correction in funding.

No One

Image of Mary Fallin

“Mary Fallin. Because no one cares more about Oklahoma. No one.”

The above text or a version of it that end Gov. Mary Fallin’s reelection campaign television advertisements have become especially grating to me for different reasons.

I hear those lines, and I cringe. No one cringes more than me. No one.

I know I could be accused of nitpicking here, and I’m certainly not going to apply some faux-Pinocchio media test about truthfulness to Fallin’s ads, but I still do think it’s important to delve deeper into such hollow political discourse rather than just numbly and dumbly accept it as part of life as an American citizen trying to participate in the election process. No wonder voter turnout is so low here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

So here are my problems with those particular lines:

(1) It’s a sweeping generalization that can never be measured or proven in any quantifiable manner. We can assume Fallin means that there are other people who care just as much as she does about Oklahoma, but that no one, absolutely no one, cares more. Does Fallin constantly care about Oklahoma throughout the day? How many hours? Does she ever not care about Oklahoma? What about when she’s watching a movie? What about other state leaders and the possibility they actually care more about Oklahoma than Fallin does at any given moment in the day? How do you measure it? How do you define it?

(2) What does it mean to care for a state, anyway? Is that necessarily a great attribute in itself? What if you care about more than one state or even more than one country? What if you care about four or even five states? By using the word care, we can also probably assume Fallin means she cares about people that live in Oklahoma as well as, say, the state’s natural beauty. Yet many people would argue that Fallin has a funny way of caring about certain groups of people who live in Oklahoma, such as students who attend underfunded schools and low-income people who can’t afford health care. Remember, no one cares more than Fallin does. No one.

(3) Generally speaking, I know that in the advertising world grating and annoying repetition in commercials can reap rewards for companies. Is this the intent of the Fallin campaign, sort of like the use of the Aflac duck? If so, it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. I also wonder if the numbing repetition even works in the case of an incumbent governor who has fallen in popularity. Anyone still riding the fence in this gubernatorial election could conceivably view the lines as an insult to their intelligence or, probably more so, simply as an aggravating nuisance as they’re trying to watch the six o’clock news.

Does any of this really matter in the larger scheme of our political campaign system? Well, I’ll say this: No one cares more about this issue of reductionist and clichéd political discourse than me. No one.*

*Slight qualification. Okay, except for the millions of other people in this country who care about it, too.

Inhofe Politicizes Ebola Outbreak

Image of Jim Inhofe from TPM

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe won’t even let the deadly Ebola virus get in the way of one of his political stunts.

Last week, Inhofe single handedly but temporarily held up $750 million in federal funding for the Department of Defense to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. The House had earlier approved the funding but when it came to the Senate, Inhofe, a ranking Republican member of the Armed Services Committee that considered the legislation, held it up.

Inhofe cited concerns about what he later called a “lack of a coherent strategy” about how the funds would be used. Meanwhile, as Inhofe equivocated, Ebola cases have appeared in the United States, and the outbreak in the west African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone continues to kill a growing number of people.

On Friday, Inhofe finally relented and released a statement saying he had changed his mind. Trying to score political points, his statement, of course, was highly critical of the Obama administration, citing the “slow response by the President's State Department and international community . . . ” to the Ebola crisis. Here’s how the statement ended:

. . . because of the failure of the Obama Administration to responsibly and strategically plan in advance for how the U.S. will be involved in West Africa, it will be difficult for me to support any further last-minute funding requests using military resources. That is why I have insisted another more appropriate funding source be identified for operations beyond six months. Significant cuts to the defense budget have eroded the readiness and capabilities of our military, and I cannot support the indefinite commitment of our troops to this mission.

So try to follow Inhofe’s logic. The Obama administration was slow to respond and strategically plan so, in response, Inhofe decides to delay things even further. It doesn’t make sense because Inhofe’s real point is really to just criticize the president in an election year. Politicizing the Ebola virus may well be a new low for Inhofe, but I would have to do a thorough search through my memory bank to be entirely sure. People are dying after contracting the Ebola virus even as I write this, and Americans are increasingly worried about a major outbreak here, but that doesn’t seem to affect Inhofe.

Note the other contradiction in Inhofe’s statement. If defense cuts have actually “eroded the readiness and capabilities of our military,” which they haven’t, then wouldn’t it make more sense to actually be immediately in favor of more and not less funding for any type of military operation? Wouldn’t that help our “readiness”? Shouldn’t the military be “ready” for virus epidemics? The Defense Department, for example, had initially requested $1 billion. The money will come from an account used to fund military operations in Afghanistan.

Inhofe’s political stunts continue to attract little to no criticism from the corporate media in this state, which is a shame because Inhofe is not a good ambassador for Oklahoma in many parts of the country and world. Perhaps we have all become so used to Inhofe’s extremism and political stunts that we’ve become numb or immune. Inhofe is expected to win reelection in November so it appears we’ll have to endure his right-wing extremism for another six years. So it goes in Oklahoma these days.

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