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The audacity of HOPE

By Brandon Dutcher Published: August 18, 2008
"There's a tradition in education,” former New York City school chancellor Frank Macchiarola once observed, "that if you spend a dollar and it doesn't work, you should spend two dollars; and not only that, you should give those two dollars to the same person who couldn't do the job with only one.”

As the nearby graphic illustrates, spending more money is no guarantee of success. Nevertheless, the state's most powerful labor union is spearheading a petition drive called HOPE (Helping Oklahoma Public Education) in an effort to get a constitutional amendment requiring Oklahoma to meet or exceed the regional average in per-pupil expenditures.

You may recall that a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Oklahoma's public school system an F. The report said "student performance in Oklahoma is very poor — the state ranks among the lowest in the nation.” And this is a school system on which Oklahoma taxpayers are already spending a small fortune.

In 2005, I teamed up with accountant Steve Anderson, formerly a public school teacher with 17 teaching certifications, to determine how much Oklahomans are paying for their schools. Not content with the "official” government reports, we computed all the expenditures that would be included on a regular financial statement. We discovered that Oklahoma's per-pupil cost in 2003 — the latest year for which data were available — was $11,250.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman pronounced our report "splendid” and said it represented "a real public service.” Teacher union official Roy Bishop was less enthusiastic. He dubbed the study "highly suspect,” so we eagerly challenged the union to a public debate on the matter.

Thirty months later, we're still waiting to hear from them.

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