Empowering the Community
by Mayor GT Bynum
The failure of State Question 779 leaves many across our state asking the question “What is our next option for properlyfunding education in Oklahoma?” And while much of the discussion rightly focuses on the state government, an important potential partner remains on the sidelines. Local communities across the state ought to be empowered to call operational funding initiatives for education in their jurisdiction without being penalized by the state government.
As a mayor, I don’t pretend to be an expert on education policy or the challenges the state
faces from a budgetary standpoint.. But I do know about developing local funding programs that address the issues most important to citizens. I’ve helped develop and pass the two largest streets improvement programs in Tulsa history and the largest economic development program in the City’s history. And I can tell you after all the public outreach to develop those programs, there is a strong desire in Tulsa to be able to help fund our schools properly.
But right now, we can’t. We can pass bricks-and-mortar capital programs to build football stadiums or new buildings or buy the latest technology for kids. But we can’t pass a program to pay our local teachers a competitive wage. If we do, we will be penalized by the state’s funding formula with a corresponding reduction in state funding to local schools. This contrasts with neighboring states like Arkansas and Texas, which do allow local communities to pass operational funding initiatives in addition to funding they already receive from the state government.
Unlike some critics, I believe our state leaders would properly fund education tomorrow if they had the tax revenue to do it. But today they do not. It is time for the state to quit trying to do it on its own. Local communities aren’t asking for a dime for themselves – only for permission to make investments deemed appropriate by local voters.
If we keep having the same debate every year about funding, we will probably yield the same result. So let’s shift our perspective, empower local citizens, and allow communities who want to properly fund their schools the ability to do so.