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 NewsOK.com, 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 NewsOK.com 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.
Just because the average amount of student loan debt in Oklahoma is lower than the national average doesn’t mean there isn’t a major crisis here related to college affordability.
Oklahoma’s higher education leaders have long backed college tuition and fee increases at least partially on the premise that the state’s overall costs for a college education are significantly lower than the national average. That lower rate, it follows, would naturally translate into lower student loan debt as well.
I don’t know how many times through the years I’ve read some quote in the media by a state higher education official that goes something like this: Quit whining. Even when we raise tuition and fees, our universities remain less expensive than in other states.
That doesn’t offer much solace to an Oklahoma college senior getting ready to graduate with $30,000 or more in debt. It probably doesn’t feel to that student it’s a good deal or bargain, which gets complicated even further when you consider a particular university’s reputation.
A recent article on NewsOK.com repeats the trope. It cites a recent analysis by Experian, which offers credit reports and tracking on its online site, that shows there was an 84 percent increase in student loan debt from 2008 to 2014. According to Experian, student loan debt in the country now stands at $1.2 trillion, a record high. The average student loan debt in Oklahoma of $23,636 is lower than the national average of $29,400, according to NewsOK.com, citing the Project on Student Debt.
So begins the age-old story here. Oklahoma Chancellor Glen Johnson claims the numbers prove success. According to the NewsOK.com story, here’s Johnson’s take on the situation: “One significant area of success has been our commitment to affordability. Oklahoma’s state system of higher education is recognized as the fifth most affordable system in the country.”
Later in the story, Johnson also points out that Oklahoma’s tuition and fee increases of 5.3 percent over the last five years are lower than in most states.
Let me be clear that this isn’t a criticism of Johnson, who is merely repeating historical fact as so many others do and have done when it comes to this argument. Our colleges are cheaper here. Who can argue that point?
But one fact that gets lost in the argument over college affordability is that Oklahoma has been consistently ranked among the nation’s bottom 25 states for decades in per capita income. Sometimes, the state has been ranked in the bottom ten. Here are the rankings since 1990.
What that means, of course, is that Oklahomans, along with their access to less expensive colleges compared to other states, also have less money to go to college. It also means that college graduates here if they stay in Oklahoma will overall make less money in the workforce than graduates in other states and consequently have less money to pay down their student loan debt.
Another companion issue omitted from the argument is that Oklahoma has long had a lower number of people with at least bachelor’s degrees than the national average. How many potential students or graduates here simply can’t afford our colleges even though they are less expensive because of our low per capita income rates?
Finally, the argument that a college education is cheaper here can enable people to ignore the fact that growing student loan debt here and elsewhere is a major humanitarian crisis. Banks feast on people simply trying to get an education by doling out loans guaranteed and even molded by the federal government. It’s a great deal for the lenders, but it means a new generation of educated people is now saddled with burdensome monthly payments for years. These people will have a difficult time buying homes or simply just surviving because of their debt.
It doesn’t matter if one gets their degree here or in California or if the debt is $40,000 or $45,000. Many Oklahoma college students, along with their counterparts across the nation, are mired in student loan debt, a development that doesn’t bode well for their financial future or the nation’s financial future.
It’s probably time to pay attention when a United States senator goes out of her way to castigate a prominent university football coach while urging real leaders in “big-time sports” to “do a soul search on character.”
That coach is Bob Stoops, head of the University of Oklahoma Sooners, and the senator is Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, a Democrat and a former sex crimes prosecutor, who wrote recently about how surprised she was that Stoops had been selected by some Division I coaches as someone they would want their “sons” to play for.
The reason she was stunned, according to her widely circulated article in USA Today, was because Stoops had welcomed to his football program University of Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham, nicknamed DGB. DGB was kicked off the Missouri Tigers football team after he allegedly pushed a woman down some stairs, McCaskill points out. No charges were filed in the case because the woman, according to McCaskill’s article, didn’t cooperate with police or prosecutors.
OU petitioned the NCAA to rule DGB eligible this year on grounds that seem to intentionally ignore the gory details of the case, but it was denied, and it’s unclear whether he will ever play for the Sooners or any college football program again.
In her article, McCaskill asks rhetorically, “But for Stoops to get the most votes from his fellow coaches as the coach they wanted to influence their sons?” She goes on to argue:
Unfortunately, that says it all. It is time for real leaders in the world of big-time sports to do a soul search on character. Every decision they make reflects on them in ways that a won/loss record never will.
McCaskill didn’t but could have also mentioned how Stoops has handled the case of 18-year-old Joe Mixon, an OU player who was caught on videotape July 25 hitting a woman in the face and fracturing her jaw. Mixon was charged with the misdemeanor crime of “an act resulting in a gross injury” and the university, with Stoops’ apparent agreement, suspended him for only one year from the team. Mixon has since been seen hanging out with the team. Remember, Mixon’s violence was caught on a tape that was viewed by media members, and he and his attorney have not disputed the video evidence.
All this comes at a time when NFL players like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have been kicked off their teams for violent actions. Rice was kicked off the Baltimore Ravens after a new tape surfaced showing him knocking out his fiancé with a violent fist jab. Peterson, a former OU player coached by none other than Bob Stoops, was kicked off the Minnesota Vikings after it was learned he whipped his 4-year-old son with a tree switch, leaving behind cuts and bruising.
“Got him in the nuts once I noticed,” Peterson apparently texted the boy’s mother, according to one article. Isn’t that sexual abuse as well? What if Peterson had struck a 4-year-old girl on her genitalia? Wouldn’t he be charged with a sex crime? Nonetheless, Peterson has been charged with “reckless or negligent injury to a child” in Texas where the beating occurred.
Those people who try to defend people like Stoops, Mixon and Peterson forget that coaches and star athletes on major college and professional teams serve as role models, a standard trope that is promoted through, among other things, jersey sales, television appearances and commercial endorsements. The media is culpable as well by creating a worship culture around star athletes. They make their money, too. Everyone gets their cut, except the victims of violence.
McCaskill does us all a great service for bringing out into the open and arguing against the violent behavior permeating what she calls big-time sports. It’s a sick culture—and that includes many sports fans—that tolerates this violence or dismisses it with a shrug or doesn’t remove the offenders from their pedestals.