The Audacity of HOPE

September 6, 2008

Brandon Dutcher

"There's a tradition in education," former New York City school chancellor Frank Macchiarola once observed, "that if you spend a dollar and it doesn't work, you should spend two dollars; and not only that, you should give those two dollars to the same person who couldn't do the job with only one."

As the nearby charts illustrate, spending more money is no guarantee of success. Nevertheless, the state's most powerful labor union is spearheading a petition drive called HOPE (Helping Oklahoma Public Education) in an effort to get a constitutional amendment requiring Oklahoma to meet or exceed the regional average in per-pupil expenditures.


You may recall that a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Oklahoma's public school system an "F." The report said "student performance in Oklahoma is very poor-the state ranks among the lowest in the nation." And this is a school system on which Oklahoma taxpayers are already spending a small fortune.

In 2005 I teamed up with accountant Steve Anderson, formerly a public school teacher with 17 teaching certifications, to determine how much Oklahomans are paying for their schools. Not content with the "official" government reports, we computed all the expenditures that would be included on a regular financial statement. We discovered that Oklahoma's per-pupil cost in 2003-the latest year for which data were available-was $11,250.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman pronounced our report "splendid" and said it represented "a real public service." Teacher union official Roy Bishop was less enthusiastic. He dubbed the study "highly suspect," so we eagerly challenged the union to a public debate on the matter.

Thirty months later, we're still waiting to hear from them. We happily reissue the challenge.

Let's be frank: the endgame here is to repeal or water down State Question 640, Oklahoma's tax-limitation amendment. HOPE is really about Hijacking Other People's Earnings.

As OCPA research fellows Scott Moody and Wendy Warcholik pointed out last month in Perspective, the average Oklahoman already spends more time working to pay his taxes than he spends working to pay for food, clothing, and shelter combined. The union doesn't care.

"The idea is to trigger a fiscal crisis and force Oklahomans to get rid of their tax-limitation provision if they want to keep the prisons open, fix the roads and bridges, or have enough DHS workers to investigate child abuse," says Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos, director of the Center for the Study of State Constitutional Law and Government.

"In Nevada," he says, "the teachers union successfully went to court and convinced the state Supreme Court to nullify the state's supermajority requirement for tax increases and order the state legislature to raise taxes-so you can take more money from the people without actually having to get their consent or that of their representatives."

Oklahoma taxpayers are getting public school results at elite prep school prices, yet the union demands more money-even if it means raising your taxes. Audacity, anyone?