(Does Oklahoma have too many schools? What's your position on school consolidation? Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette. Be sure to read the counter argument as well.)
When it comes to education, The Oklahoman editorial page has a consistent contradictory message.
On one hand, the editorial page often presents opinions that argue how important education is to the state’s future. A recent editorial, (“Improving state’s future rests with more education,” May 17, 2009), accurately pointed out:
What would a more educated Oklahoma look like? We’d live longer, have fewer murders, be more financially stable and our kids would read better. What’s not to like about that picture?
On the other hand, the newspaper’s editorials consistently oppose adequate funding for education even though the state often ranks in the bottom ten or even five nationally in per pupil spending. Oklahoma is also known as a place with low teacher salaries.
It’s this contradiction—giving lip service to the importance of education but refusing to argue for adequate funding—that is really at the heart of the state’s education issues. This contradiction or subterfuge has been an historical reality for decades now. It’s all talk and no dough. It’s the appearance of supporting education versus the reality of chronically underfunded schools.
Oklahoma needs to boost funding for education just to catch up with regional averages. Once that happens, then The Oklahoman can argue more convincingly for reform. But its current arguments about education ignore the current reality.
The newspaper, for example, has opposed the HOPE initiative, which will bring a measure to the ballot asking Oklahomans to fund schools at regional averages. At the same, the newspaper accurately (“Oklahoma needs more adults hitting the books,” May 26, 2009) argues:
Not only do we have fewer college graduates than the national average, but the younger generations in our state are less-educated than their elders. That’s bad news — it means potentially each generation of Oklahomans could be less-educated than the ones before.
It’s obvious chronic underfunding has at least exasperated the problem of the state’s low college graduation rate.
The newspaper, which supported the recent income tax cuts that primarily benefited wealthy people, has not pushed constructively for more educational funding, yet it hectors us (“High school diploma shouldn’t be main goal,” May 21, 2009) about high school graduation ceremonies this way:
By all means, congratulate students who have worked hard, accomplished much in high school and are challenging themselves to let high school be just the starting line. Just don’t forget that thousands of kids aren’t making that walk. Or that even for those who do, a high school diploma alone isn’t worth much anymore.
But at least one of the reasons some Oklahoma kids “aren’t making that walk” is because of inadequate education funding. This is a failure of the state's power structure.
No one is arguing the state government should just throw money at its educational systems without rigorous oversight and prudence, but the time has come for adequate and “average” funding for the state’s public educational systems. The Oklahoman editorial writers should concede this non-controversial, obvious position and call for state leaders to find new revenue streams for education.