Mayor G. T. Bynum unveiled an initiative for education that would help reinvigorate school funding but would struggle to succeed in light of Oklahoma’s budget woes.
In his first State of the City address, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum laid out a series of initiatives that will attempt to fix the problems of Tulsa as well as potential problems of Oklahoma. Talking to the Tulsa Regional Chamber, Bynum put out six major proposals. These initiatives include education, safety, parks and economic growth. Each initiative hopes to fix a specific problem that Tulsa is experiencing. Through these different initiatives, there are real solutions to these specific problems.
While all the initiatives are equally open for discussion, I think the most important one for Oklahoma concerns education. Mayor Bynum stated, “Under the existing funding system, local support is limited by the state constitution and a state funding formula that offsets increased local support with reductions in state money.” Through this system, the Oklahoma state government attempts to save money by keeping extra funds that would have been used for education. Bynum argues that this restriction should be removed to allow cities to improve their personal education systems without losing state funding in the process. I believe that while there are some inherent problems, such as Oklahoma’s current budgetary constraints, it is a step in the right direction towards improving Oklahoma’s education.
In this new system, local support for education becomes more important and useful than it was in the past. Currently, the only benefit for cities raising money for local education is helping out the state budget. In his speech, Bynum, addressing Tulsans, said “if you were to pass a property tax to pay our teachers what they ought to be paid so they don’t flee to Arkansas or Texas, we would be punished and have an equivalent amount taken away from our allocation from the state. We would be punished for trying to help.” While this is a useful tool in lowering the costs of education for the state, it does nothing to improve the status of Oklahoma schools and hurts any non-state legislation created to fund education. With this new concept in mind, cities around the state would personally fix the problems of their own school systems. Instead of having to rely totally on the state or risk losing funds, cities could further fund education in addition to the work done by the state government.
In addition to this, it also promotes spending on education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Voters are more likely to vote for education spending if it concerns their own communities. State education funding may not seem as important because it feels impersonal to the average citizen who is not currently in the education system or has no kids in public schools. However, local education funding has more immediacy to the average citizen. It is easier to care for one’s personal community rather than a large entity such as a state.
Bynum also argued that education needs the extra funding because it promotes economic development, it improves the natural quality of life and eases the burden on criminal justice. A good education system helps create citizens who are able to help develop the economy and find meaningful employment. In this way, they are less likely to get involved with criminal activities or be stuck in perpetual poverty. In funding education, one does not only fund the the education system itself but also promotes the general welfare of the entire area. Proper education systems are the basis of a proper economic landscape.
However, there is a major problem with this initiative. It is a drain on the state budget which is already weak and constantly under pressure. The state of Oklahoma currently has a major budget deficit. In special session, the state government is attempting to find money for the current budget. This new program would cost the state money that it does not have. The current state budget is unable to finance this new plan due to extreme financial constraints. If the state government is currently unable to pay for education now, it is impossible that it would be able to accept even more strain in the future. While the same amount of money would be given by the state to education systems across Oklahoma, any potential excesses would not be sent back to the state government. While it can be argued that the benefits of reduced crime would balance out the loss in the long term, the current state budget will not be able to wait for the benefits.
Another problem for the initiative is that it could be potentially unequal for communities across Oklahoma. For example, areas with higher overall income will be able to spend more on education than poorer areas. This provides an uneven playing field for Oklahoma’s students in that some education systems will be better equipped than others due to increased funding. This potentially causes a perpetual cycle that richer areas get progressively better while poorer areas continue to stagnate or even get worse as time goes on. Due to the nature of budgets across Oklahoma, it is a very difficult issue to fix without sufficient change in the state budget. While this problem is not completely new, it is still an important issue to be discussed in this particular situation.
The education initiative proposed by Bynum has promise in that it allows cities to improve their own education systems. They are not so tightly held to the state’s budget and can fix the problem that they see before them. It promotes the idea that citizens themselves can affect change in their local communities for the better. However, the idea is unlikely due to the budgetary constraints that Oklahoma is currently under. With the state budget still in session over the budget shortfall, there is very little chance that any future forms of spending will be able to pass. Without proper economic support, this initiative will have little chance of becoming more than just a concept.