My disdain for proposed laws with cute acronyms goes back a long way. Six years ago I denounced one particularly noxiouss example of the breed:

Prime example: The USA PATRIOT Act, an acronym of such mind-numbing idiocy that if Ashcroft and company don't disown the whole package over Constitutional concerns, which they won't, they ought to can it for having a stupid, maudlin, wretched name.

So you might guess that I look askance at HOPE, which expands to Helping Oklahoma Public Education, and which will appear on the ballot this November as State Question 744. Here's the ballot text:

This measure adds a new Article to the Oklahoma Constitution. The Article concerns the amount of money the State provides to support common schools, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. The Article requires the State each year to provide an amount of money per pupil that is at least equal to the average of the amounts spent per pupil by the states surrounding Oklahoma: Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. If the average of the amounts spent per pupil by the surrounding states decreases for any year, the State must provide the same amount of money per pupil as the previous year. The amount spent per pupil means the amount spent for the day-to-day operations of schools and school districts, including instruction, support services, and non-instruction services, but not including building projects or debt. The Article requires annual reports on education spending and school performance. Common schools must be funded in this manner within three years.

Inasmuch as the state has been scrambling to find funding this year revenues are expected to fall short of expectations by somewhere in the vicinity of one billion dollars, and agency budgets have been slashed accordingly this would seem to be a lousy time for the Oklahoma Education Association, which leads the pro-744 coalition, to call for a spending increase of somewhere in the vicinity of $850 million.

What's more, spending "per pupil" is a purely arbitrary number that has very little to do with the quality of actual education. Consider Washington, D.C., which spends more than $25,000 per pupil, double the Oklahoma average and then some. Are they producing world-class results? Not even close.

Even Oklahoma Democrats, allegedly in the pocket of the OEA, aren't keen on SQ 744. For instance, Senator Andrew Rice (D-OKC), hardly a "blue dog," has said that the measure would tie the legislature's hands.

But this, I think, is the, you should pardon the expression, money quote:

We cannot waive our responsibility to our most fragile citizens the old, the sick, the poor and the hungry. They depend on help with nursing home care, family health services to keep their children healthy, and in some cases they need the most basic necessity, food. These Oklahomans that most of us don't see on a regular basis can't take a 12 percent cut. The AFT will never support a proposal that leaves people behind with the sick becoming sicker and the poor made poorer.

Also left behind are state workers and their families, roads and bridges, corrections, public health and safety, and higher education, to name just a few. The simple truth is that large cuts will be made in every state agency unless current taxes or new taxes fill the $850 million loss.

So said Ed Allen, president of Local 2309, American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools. A turf war between rival teachers' unions, you think? Probably not. There's nothing in the ballot measure that gives preference to OEA districts. But there's also nothing in the ballot measure that explains how all of this is supposed to be paid for, which is precisely the reason why I'd like to see it fail, and fail spectacularly.

There's a Stop 744 campaign in place, spearheaded by Oklahomans for Responsible Government. In the interest of transparency, I'll tell you that they asked me to put up an anti-744 banner. I decided not to do so. But I did decide to write this, simply because I see no reason to think that unfunded mandates at the state level are any more praiseworthy than unfunded mandates from Washington, of which we have had an abundance.

The Vent

  1 April 2010

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 Copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Hill