OR DO THEY?
I have heard this argument offered from several sources, all intelligent people. A recent Facebook post gave me the opportunity to put some thoughts down in writing.
Although Oklahoma financial centers are in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the foundation of all that money is in rural Oklahoma where agricultural products and oil are produced. That seems obvious. So the rural areas are producing the wealth and the cities control it. Any money that finds its way back to rural parts of the state should not be considered a gift or subsidy. Now that I think of it, this system is similar to the mercantile economics during colonial times. Raw materials were sent to England and finished products sent back. The money in large part stayed in Great Britain. This was the foundation of slave rebellions in the Caribbean islands in in the USA. This is an odd but perhaps apt analogy. The cities are not subsidizing the rural areas of the state. Just the opposite is true.
Read on if you have time:
Our system does not allow for sufficient local funding of schools. (Or cities for that matter. Cities are not the focus of this blog.) Thus a greater percentage of school funding comes from the state level in Oklahoma than in many other states. This was, in fact, one of the big reforms of HB1017. It helped equalize funding across the state by using state appropriations to level out funding resulting from differing property tax evaluations in different school districts. Some other changes in property tax distribution were made as well. This system is more politically volatile because it requires a larger percentage of legislative appropriations. The legislators always seem to think of this as their money. Local property taxes can be voted in for years and tend to have good support since the money stays home. The direction of the political winds at any given time has far less impact on local funding. Stable funding is a good thing.
If someone wants to talk about fixing the largely broken property tax system in this state that’d be great. Some counties are so far out of compliance that it is mathematically impossible for them to ever catch up without reform.* Until reform happens, the money is going to have to come from legislative appropriations. Property tax reform does not seem to be part of any party political agenda in this state, sadly.
The term “subsidizing local schools” seems to have become an accepted, though ill considered, description of what we do. We are giving rural students the chance at a good education. A student’s access to well-funded education should not depend on their zip code. I have a former student from Mountain View who is lead systems engineer for Alstom Transport, a multinational corporation. Similar stories abound. Funding in rural schools is in the public interest. And if you check the school report cards, flawed as they are, some of those rural schools do very well. That is why some of them are so opposed to consolidation.
I have already addressed why consolidating schools does not impact the state education budget. This is why funding rural schools is a good idea, even if they are small.
*Property tax assessments cannot inrease more than 3% per year unless they are sold. This does not keep up with inflation. More detailed information about property taxes in Oklahoma here.