Of all the half-truths (and worse) that Oklahomans are sure to hear as the campaign for State Question 744 revs up, none is bigger than the fish tale that the Legislature hasn't made education a priority. A proponent used that argument just last week in an op-ed piece on these pages.
Here are the facts: Common education is the single largest recipient of state dollars this fiscal year — about $2.38 billion — and accounts for more than one-third of the state budget. Higher education comes in a distant second and even the CareerTech system makes the list as one of the top 10 recipients of state money, ahead of the Department of Public Safety.
Spending for all education-related agencies takes up more than half of the state's more than $6 billion budget. No other government agency comes within even $1 billion of the appropriation set aside for common education.
There's more: During Gov. Brad Henry's administration, the state agreed to pay for teachers' health insurance, teachers received several thousand dollars in pay increases and early childhood programs continued to expand. And when budget-cutting time hit once again earlier this year, lawmakers spared education more than it did other sectors of government. The cuts were still painful, but not as bad they might have been. Does that sound like misplaced priorities?
Teachers, superintendents and other SQ 744 proponents can be expected to repeat this sob story time and again before the Nov. 2 election. But it's not true, plain and simple.
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