‘Efficiency’ in Schools, ‘Grading’ the Legislature, Zero Base Budgeting Debated in ‘Your Vote Counts’
OKLAHOMA CITY – Improving “efficiency” in education funding was the principal topic of the latest episode of “Your Vote Counts.”
State Sen. Kyle Loveless continues his crusade for an evaluation of school administrative costs and has proposed a task force to examine the issue in-depth. This state has too many school districts, the Oklahoma City Republican contends. During the 2013-14 school year Oklahoma had more than 520 superintendents whose total income approached $50 million, he said.
In comparison, he claimed Sunday on “Your Vote Counts,” Oregon has a population roughly equivalent to Oklahoma’s, but has 10,000 more school students, half as many school districts, half as many superintendents and support staff, yet its teachers are paid “about $12,000 a year more” than Oklahoma’s are.
Loveless filed two measures this year that targeted school administrative expenses.
Senate Bill 15, a school administrative consolidation measure, was shelved by a Senate committee. But Loveless’s Senate Bill 18, creating a task force to study school administrative costs “and identify efficiencies” passed the Senate and has been assigned to the House Rules Committee.
Schools need more money, not more task forces, Rep. Richard Morrissette countered. “We’re $200 million below the funding level of 2008” for public schools, while enrollment has grown by 40,000 over the past six years, to 681,000 students, he said. The Republican-controlled Oklahoma Legislature has cut public education funding by 23%, more than any other state in the nation, the Oklahoma City Democrat said. “We’re 49th in the nation” in teacher pay.
Loveless said the State of Oklahoma “spends 52 cents of every dollar on education.” That figure includes higher education and the Career Technology system, not just public primary and secondary schools, Morrissette pointed out.
“If we run our state as a business, finding a 5% cut should not be that difficult to do,” Loveless said. “There are ways we can get more money into the classroom and get more teachers without raising taxes.”
“We are down to the bone,” said Morrissette. “There’s nothing much left to cut.” The GOP has to “run this government responsibly, and that takes money.”
During a recent episode of “Your Vote Counts,” Morrissette and Rep. Leslie Osborn were asked by moderator Scott Mitchell to evaluate the Legislature’s performance this year. Morrissette gave it a “bad” rating, while Osborn gave it “a passing grade of C.”
Osborn mentioned “a lot of bills that have sucked the air out of the room,” including the so-called “hoodie” bill. The Mustang Republican also referred to Senate Bill 329, the attempt by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, to repeal legislation signed by former Gov. Brad Henry in 2007 that designated the watermelon as the state vegetable of Oklahoma; the watermelon is a fruit, not a vegetable, Dahm believes. SB 329 generated headlines but died in the Senate’s General Government Committee.
The primary focus of state legislators should be the $611 million budget deficit, asserted Osborn, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations and Budget. She hastened to add that budget shortfalls have occurred “every six to seven years” since statehood in 1907 because of “the volatility of oil and gas prices.”
Osborn recommended that the Legislature adopt zero base budgeting. “Until we meet 12 months out of the year with those budget committees and empower our members to dig into agency budget, building from the ground up instead of looking at the previous year’s budget and saying, ‘Let’s go up 2% or 4%,’ nothing changes,” she said.
Morrissette concurred. Zero base budgeting “is the way to go.” If the Oklahoma Legislature were evaluated as a business, he said, “At best we’d be in Chapter 11 reorganization, and at worst we’d be in Chapter 7 liquidation, ending the business.”
Mitchell asked Osborn and Morrissette about various measures introduced in the Legislature this year to hobble or evade judicial ruling that have sanctioned same-sex marriage.
Osborn singled out House Bill 1125 by Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell. “It would take county clerks from handing out marriage licenses to only accepting them from an officiant,” she related. However, the legislation “may just add more confusion” because of the “constitutionality issue.” The legality of gay marriage ultimately “will be decided on the federal level, like abortion was in Roe vs. Wade,” Osborn predicted.
Morrissette, an attorney, concurred. Same-sex marriage is “going to be decided by the United States Supreme Court,” he said. The issue has already been heard in several federal circuit courts, he noted. “It’s out of the hands” of legislators.
“Your Vote Counts” is a 10-minute program that features a point-counterpoint format. It airs Sunday mornings on KWTV-9 in Oklahoma City; afterward, the show is uploaded to the Internet at www.news9.com/yourvotecounts.
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile