All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

A 19th century model with a 21st century pay scale

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
The ruins of a public school in rural Garfield County, Oklahoma.
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NORMAN, Okla. -- So let's review some things about Oklahoma.  It has a population of about 3.5 million, 77 counties, about 530 independent school districts,  and 40 four-year colleges. I forgot for a moment about the 59 Vo-Tech campuses in Oklahoma.

If we look at the population dispersion in 1920, we would see 2 million people fairly evenly spread across the state. Many families living on 160 acres and small towns covering the state.

Today that picture is completely changed. With a total population of 3.7 million, over 3 million are located in about 10 metro centers, with the Oklahoma City metroplex being the largest and Tulsa metroplex next.

Yet with this massive shift in population we retain the same model that was set up when you went to the county seat in a wagon or on horseback.

This year, the state is faced with significant budget shortages.  University of Oklahoma President David Boren is promoting a one-cent sales tax increase to cure the salary shortfalls of Oklahoma teachers.

There are other plans for increasing state revenues, including an increased tobacco tax and increasing the personal income tax rate.

Since 1970, there have been several guaranteed cures for budget short falls and low teacher's salaries.

House Bill 1017 was the bill that would forever fix the education crisis in Oklahoma.

The tax on alcohol was another cure for the state budget woes. The state lottery was to bring in 300 million dollars and would fix education. The tax compact with the Indian tribes on gaming revenue was to have lasting impact improving the state budget.

What becomes very apparent in all of these plans is that none of them addressed the main problem which was the base model that existed in the state and is still the problem today.

The depopulation of rural Oklahoma continues unabated and will continue in the future. Most of the small towns in Oklahoma have reached or will soon reach a tipping point from which there is no recovery.

With no jobs in rural Oklahoma and good highways, the few people in rural Oklahoma will travel to larger towns to get better prices or buy on line and have items shipped in, thus ending the life of small town stores. Next the bank goes, then the post office, and then the school. The problems is that the school and the post office are government run and can go on forever if someone else will cover the cost.

In 1970, Cameron University in Lawton was a two-year school. Now it is a university. Does Oklahoma need 40 four-year schools? Do we need 530 school superintendents? Do we need 231 county commissioners? Do we need 77 county sheriffs? Do we need 77 county health departments?

In the 2010 census 20 counties in Oklahoma had fewer than 10,000 population.

Over 20 schools had fewer than 40 students with a per student cost of $20,000 per year.

The political will does not exist to redesign the basic model in Oklahoma. So it appears that the state will struggle with budget crisis, one after another, until, at some point, the crisis will become so great that the basis model has to change.

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About the Author

Ted H. Smith

Ted H. Smith is a 1966 graduate of Texas A&M University. He received his Master Degree in...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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