The only thing more frustrating than trying to figure out school funding is a bad analogy. Two wrongs may not make a right, but let's indulge in both at once and see what happens.
Imagine a person of limited means who receives food stamps to help make sure they have enough to eat. Now imagine how excited that person would be if you told them the state is now going to allow them to use food stamp money on rent.
I'm sure there are a few people who that would help. Maybe they live near a garden so they have plenty of food, so freeing up that dedicated funding source to allow another use might be helpful. I don't think that situation is very prevalent.
That is the scenario being considered when Oklahomans consider State Question 801 in November.
In their great wisdom and lack of desire to properly fund schools at the state level, lawmakers sent SQ801 to the people to decide.
Currently, the state funding formula allows schools to use 5 mils of local property taxes for a building fund. SQ801 would allow schools to divert those funds away from building needs to general fund expenses like teacher pay and textbooks.
Legislators could have increased money to textbooks and other items, but instead they decided to let voters decide this issue.
I'm fairly certain that there will be anecdotes of school districts whose buildings are so pristine and well-maintained that their building funds are running over. Please remember that anecdotes are not evidence. My informed assumption is that an overwhelming majority of schools face roofing, heat and air, flooring or other issues every year that exceed what they can repair using the dedicated building fund.
This measure might help a few schools with a few problems, but this is a very weak effort at reforming education funding.
It finally stopped raining
The Rainy Day fund was all but dried up at the end of the past legislative session. The state's savings account had been tapped out by bad tax policies that were not met with equivalent spending cuts.
Thanks primarily to changes in tax policy, the state tax collections exceeded estimates by more than 11 percent in June. Higher oil and gas prices are helping, but the new tax laws are being credited with the better financial news for the state.
Thanks to the excess, the state was able to add more than $380 million to the Rainy Day Fund. That fund is legally allowed to hold $750 million and had been drained down to about one tenth of that during recent legislative sessions.
“I think it’s important to note there were significant law changes that contributed to the revenue the state collected in 2018 and continues to collect in the current fiscal year,” Office of Management and Enterprise Services Director Denise Northrup was quoted as saying. “The total estimated impact from legislative changes since the first regular session of 2017 is approximately $358.9 million, which is nearly the same amount we are depositing into the Rainy Day Fund for FY 2018.”
No one likes paying taxes. I love pizza, but I don't like buying pizza. Free pizza would always be preferable, but as far as I know there isn't anyone offering to pave roads or educate kids for free, so taxes - like my pizza bill - are necessary evils. I'm glad we have begun recovering enough to actually put back some of the money that was saved for an emergency and spent on an emergency of our own making.
Northrup was not sold on the idea that the Oklahoma economy is back on track even with positive news.
“It’s important to remember, we are not yet back to where we started pre-economic downturn,” stated Northrup. “We are getting there, but I’d like to see a broader recovery with all reporting categories beating estimates before declaring the state has fully recovered economically.”
I hope she is able to make that proclamation soon. Until then, we can just enjoy the fact that we are saving money and not spending more than we're bringing in.