Transportation plan offers model for education success

July 11, 2019

Jonathan Small

I was intrigued when an attendee at a recent legislative town hall suggested that Oklahoma should have an eight-year funding plan for education modeled after the state’s transportation funding plan.

I say go for it. The principles that guide the road plan—funding increases tied to measurable results with consequences for failure—can achieve the same results for education that they did for Oklahoma’s transportation system.

With the road plan, the bargain is simple: If taxpayers give transportation officials more money, they get measurable improvement in road-and-bridge conditions in return. The plan is specific, and progress is easily monitored.

Under a transportation-style plan, more education funding would be tied to improved academic outcomes. For too long, policymakers have acted as though spending, in and of itself, is an achievement—even if outcomes remain the same or decline.

Over the past two years, lawmakers have increased K-12 funding by $638 million and increased teacher pay by a combined total average of $7,320 apiece. School appropriations have jumped 20 percent in two years. Money dedicated to Oklahoma’s education system will hit an all-time high this fiscal year.

It’s also worth noting that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation relies on private contractors, and contractors who do a poor job are barred from additional state work. What succeeds in roadbuilding can also work for education. Why not let parents have a set amount of state funding and choose the school that best suits their children?

Finally, adopting an eight-year plan would require school officials to admit there’s a level of per-pupil spending sufficient to provide a quality education, something many bristle at today.

“And before any smart-aleck representative asks back, ‘How much is enough?’ I’ll just let you know that we’re nowhere close,” Mid-Del superintendent Rick Cobb snapped in 2016. “I don’t have a number … I don’t have a number. You’re lucky I have my nice words. Just keep adding, and we’ll tell you when you get there.” 

Former Tahlequah superintendent Lisa Presley was even more unreasonable: “There has never been enough revenue for public education, and there never will be.” 

Prudent financial planning is not smart-alecky. Indeed, more lawmakers need to ask the leaders of the education establishment, “How much is enough?”