Some members of the education establishment insist that public demand for increased school funding now exceeds support for lower taxes. This year's election results suggest otherwise.
State Question 758 limited property tax increases and State Question 766 exempted intangible property from taxation. School officials opposed both measures, saying they reduced education funding. Oklahoma voters overwhelming approved both anyway.
49th is Not OK, a group seeking increased school funding, sought to oust legislators this year. Its recent forum mostly featured Democratic candidates. Republicans not only retained legislative control, but increased their majorities.
Those are only the latest defeats for promoters of tax-and-spend approaches to education. In 2010, an astounding 81 percent of voters rejected SQ 744, which would have required up to $1.7 billion in new school funding over three years.
In 2006, the Oklahoma Education Association sued to force a $1 billion annual increase in school appropriations and $3 billion more for infrastructure. That lawsuit was dismissed.
Advocates take comfort in polls showing public support for increased school appropriations, but actual voting demonstrates continued public opposition to higher taxes and support for tax reductions.
That doesn't mean Oklahomans are anti-education. At the local level, citizens routinely approve bond issues. Voters also approved the lottery and casino gambling to augment school funding.
If education advocates want a larger share of state appropriations, they must acknowledge it often requires offsetting cuts in other government programs, particularly social services. So far, school funding proponents haven't made that case, preferring to instead demonize tax reductions. That's been a losing strategy.
More importantly, in their quest for greater school spending, proponents have often failed to answer fundamental questions: Exactly how will extra money be used, and how will that improve student performance?
Until advocates give a compelling response, their political successes will continue to be limited.