Budget & Tax

Brandon Dutcher | June 30, 2009

Creative Budget Options Needed at 23rd & Lincoln

Brandon Dutcher

The consensus seems to be that next year's budget situation at the state capitol will be tight. Sure, Oklahoma's share of "stimulus" money could help, but then again it could serve to lock in higher levels of spending, thus exacerbating our problems.

And there's one proposal-an item on next year's crowded ballot-which is certain to cause headaches.

Leaders of the state's most powerful labor union, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), are asking taxpayers for an additional $850 million annual bailout. It's called the HOPE initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment which would require the state legislature to increase per-pupil spending to the regional average.

This is extremely irresponsible public policy, which is why even some of public education's biggest boosters are hoping against HOPE. Esteemed Oklahoma economist Larkin Warner, an unwavering supporter of increased funding for education, says reaching the regional average will require other areas of government-such as roads and bridges, corrections, higher education, and health care-to take a hit.

"Expenditure cuts on non-K-12 education functions will be a mathematical certainty," says Dr. Warner, Regents Professor Emeritus of Economics at Oklahoma State University. "The backlash to such a reallocation from other needed functions of state government would be profound and lasting."

Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, wrote in The Oklahoman that "unless the state receives a windfall in additional revenue, 12 percent across-the-board budget cuts for every agency will need to occur."

So with these fiscal storm clouds gathering over the dome, what's a policymaker to do? David Blatt of the liberal Oklahoma Policy Institute correctly suggests that "state policymakers will need to display a great deal of flexibility and willingness to utilize all the policy options at their disposal to keep the state budget afloat during the upcoming years."

I agree. So let me be quick to offer one creative option which would take some of the pressure off budget writers while simultaneously increasing per-pupil spending in the public schools: a school-choice tax credit.

Numerous studies have shown that school choice can save money. Earlier this year in a report prepared for the Florida State Board of Education, Paul Peterson and Martin West of Harvard's Kennedy School and Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution wrote, "There is no fiscal reason to eliminate any school choice options currently available to students and families. On the contrary, an expansion of those options would very likely yield savings to state and local taxpayers."

OCPA has repeatedly demonstrated, most recently with a fiscal-impact study co-published with the Friedman Foundation, how school choice can save money. It's past time for budget-conscious state lawmakers to embrace this option.

Writing 12 years ago in The New Democrat, Tom Mirga, a former news editor at Education Week, observed that "if a public institution cannot be reformed in 15 years for $100 billion, it is fair to conclude that it cannot be reformed at all. ... If the education establishment continues to defend pumping more money into an indefensible system, it will surely lose the voucher battle and thus ensure the demise of public education."

I'm not sure the OEA is taking that message to heart. "Whoever digs a pit will fall into it," the proverb says, "and he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him." Wouldn't it be ironic if the teacher union's irresponsible ploy for more money forced legislators to save money via school choice?

Brandon Dutcher Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher

Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine,,, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.

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