Dear Peter Jr.,
On behalf of millions of Oklahomans, I just want to tell you, “We’re really sorry, kid.”
Seriously, we are.
You are only a child and should not have to worry about stuff like state budgets, taxes, and education funding. But there are things happening in our state this year that will, unfortunately, impact you now and in the future. You have a right to know.
Adults in charge of our government are making decisions about our state’s priorities and what we value most.
Sadly, the truth is we do not value education as much as many other states in America. While some states are greatly increasing funding for their schools to better prepare their children to compete in a fast-changing global economy, Oklahoma is trying to get by on the cheap. Our schools have cut funding for you and your fellow students by more than 27% in nine years and your teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation.
Our state budget is a disaster and we’re not doing much to change that. It’s kinda like being really sick and not having anybody working to help you get better.
Despite our state’s problems, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency to get things fixed. To use a common expression, people in power seem to be kicking the can down the road. One day soon, you and your friends may be stubbing your toe on that same can.
The bottom line is we are having to steal from your future to pay for the mistakes adults are making today.
How bad is it? Here’s a big number for you: $868,000,000. That’s 868 MILLION dollars.
This is how much LESS money Oklahoma will have next year to run our state than we did this year.
LESS money to fund your schools and teachers. LESS money to invest in our colleges and universities to enable more Oklahomans to pursue degrees and increase their earning potential. LESS money to build and maintain safe roads and bridges. LESS money to provide health care for our citizens. LESS money to hire police and firemen to keep you and your families safe. LESS money for social services to help your friends and their families who need a helping hand. LESS money to provide a safety net for your elderly grandparents, individuals with severe disabilities, and others who need our compassion. LESS money to invest in state parks, museums, and recreational activities for you and other children to explore and learn.
LESS money to build the kind of state you will want to stay and raise your future family.
It wasn’t always this way. It just kinda happened.
Our state constitution says our government can only spend what it has and cannot go into debt. That is a good thing. It is important to be responsible with our money.
To balance previous budgets, our lawmakers have used a variety of budget tricks to make it appear we’re doing okay. But, this year, most of those tricks aren’t going to work anymore. Our state’s savings account has run dry and we have very few options available besides cutting services to Oklahomans, including you and other children in our state.
Our schools have worked hard to shield you from the impacts of funding cuts over the past few years. We’re not sure we can do that anymore.
As Oklahomans, we pride ourselves on being able to do more with less. That is becoming very difficult. As a result, we will simply be doing less.
We have robbed your dad, Peter, to pay Paul. Then we robbed Paul to pay more to corporations and wealthy Oklahomans.
Now it’s time to rob from you, Peter Jr.
When it comes to picking winners and losers, our state has decided you will lose.
Instead of investing in state-of-the-art schools with modern technology, we have protected tax breaks for the people who build those big wind turbines you see from the highway when you travel out west.
Instead of increasing pay to help recruit the best teachers for OUR schools and motivate them to not leave our state, we gave wealthy Oklahomans an income tax reduction.
Instead of lowering class sizes so you and your fellow students can receive more individual attention and experience higher quality learning, we gave oil companies huge tax incentives.
Instead of expanding our academic and extracurricular programs in our schools, we have spent money on creating more standardized tests to be used to rank you and your friends, judge your teachers, and punish your schools.
Instead of developing a vision for a safe, healthy, vibrant, productive and happy future for the children of Oklahoma, we have sought to please the adults with power and money.
We have turned our back on you when you needed us the most.
My hope is that by the time it is your generation’s turn to lead this great state, things will be in better shape. I hope that our leaders will learn from our mistakes and begin to prioritize funding of education and other important services over excessive tax breaks for companies and wealthy Oklahomans. Instead of pushing our problems down the road, I hope we have the courage and conviction to fix things now.
Most Oklahomans love our state. Many of us were born and raised here, some of us left for various reasons but then we came home. Because Oklahoma is OUR home.
For that reason, we yearn for a Oklahoma that is both fiscally sound and compassionate. We desire a state that honors its heritage and shared values but is also forward-thinking and progressive. We strive to foster a community of people which respects our individual differences and fights to help those less fortunate. We pray for peace and prosperity for all. We dream of a place where people of varied faiths and beliefs can come together to cherish the American dream and work to create a better future for you and the children of our state.
Above all else, we pray for children like you, that you are valued and loved and well cared for. And that you will be blessed with the Oklahoma spirit and a character that values hard work, charity, honor, resilience, integrity, optimism, and service to others. That’s what being a Oklahoman is all about.
We’re sorry we are not doing a better job, Peter Jr. We hope you will forgive us.
All the best,
Concerned Oklahomans for Children.