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Shadows of State Power

By: John Michener

Who really runs our state government? To answer that question, consider: who makes and enforces the most policies that affect the most citizens? Is it our part-time, minimum-wage, elected officials at the Capitol who will only serve for a season? Or could it be those who are full-time, well-paid, long-term professionals who will outlast any elected official?

We see a pattern repeated throughout state government. An agency, bureau, commission, or department (ABC) is created by the Legislature. The ABC exists to provide a good or service, or to regulate, license, and fleece those who provide a good or service. The ABC then spends money to increase its constituency, its power, its control, and to lobby for more money. As it gets more constituents, it can lobby for more money to meet the demands of its growing constituents. As it gets more employees, it has more personnel to do more lobbying, and more employees to pay more union dues to hire more lobbyists to focus full-time on arguing for more money. The ABC grows so strong that it becomes untouchable.

No, it is not our elected officials who run our state. The bureaucrats who run the ABCs run our state. We could use any large, powerful agency to make this point, but having mentioned the A-B-Cs, let us use the granddaddy of them all, the department that engorges itself on more than half of the state budget: The Department of Education (DOE).

The sheer size and scope of the DOE has made it untouchable. Moreover, as the keepers of our kids, DOE bureaucrats hold them hostage by claiming everything they do is "for the children." Just look at the power that the DOE wielded in the last few months:

1. Billboards, signs, and postcards cried, "Our children are worth 51 cents." Residents of Canadian County believed the propaganda and needlessly denied themselves a tax cut, concerned that a Youth Detention Center flush with operating capital would be negatively impacted if such a cut were passed.

2. Professional, full-time petitioners are crawling all over parking lots and universities asking for a tax increase to fund "teacher pay raises," money that is more likely to fund the pet programs of the state's Education Pope, David Boren, at the University of Oklahoma.

3. Education Savings Accounts were killed at the Capitol because legislators fear DOE bureaucrats will recruit opponents against any legislator who dares to vote against the education lobby. No legislator wants to go up against a district's beloved retired football coach or retired high school principal.

4. The DOE implemented Common Core compliant standards in flagrant disregard for the will of the people and the Legislature.

We have two fundamental problems with state schools -- a practical problem and a moral problem. First, let us consider the practical problem. The state school system functions as a monopoly. Sure, there are some private school options for those who have the financial means, but for the vast majority, state schools are the only real option, so state schools have a functional monopoly.

We know that monopolies are inherently bad. Take the example of shoes. Assume that only the Oklahoma Schuhestaffel (OK Shoe Squadron, or OK SS) can make and sell shoes. First, OK SS shoes will not be cheap. The OK SS can charge as much as they want because there is nowhere else to get shoes. Second, OK SS shoes will not be the highest quality or type because as long as the shoes cover your feet, you like that better than going barefoot. Third, because the OK SS is the only shoe provider, they can exercise leverage over others. Do you want your shoes or not? Then you better comply with OK SS standards and requirements. Suppose a Senator offends the OK SS with critical remarks about their shoes or with a vote to reduce OK SS funding. In that case the OK SS can mobilize its numerous employees, children, and their parents to run a Schuhestaffel-friendly candidate against the Senator. In summary, the OK SS shoe monopoly will lead to higher prices, poorer quality, and abuse of power. These are all good reasons not to have a monopoly in the provision of shoes…or education.

Consider what looks like abuse of power and mismanagement in state schools which employ increasingly more non-teachers than teachers. Noted economist Dr. Benjamin Scafidi recently visited Oklahoma City, and using data that the DOE reported to the U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Scafidi showed that if Oklahoma had increased non-teaching staff only at the same rate as student increases, then the annual savings would have amounted to enough to give every Oklahoma teacher a pay increase of $7,042. You can see Dr. Scafidi's presentation at Here are just a few examples of apparent mismanagement from over the last twenty years: A) In Tulsa, enrollment decreased by 3 percent, but non-teaching staff increased by 147 percent; B) In Tulsa Union, enrollment increased by 49 percent. The number of teachers increased correspondingly by 50 percent, but non-teaching staff increased by 150 percent; C) In Midwest City and Del City, enrollment decreased by 7 percent, but non-teaching staff increased by 82 percent.

Now consider the moral problem. We all possess what are called negative rights: "I have the right not to be killed, not to have my liberty taken away, and not to be coerced and have my property stolen." Each sovereign state was founded on the principle of negative rights, that humans "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Our states were further founded on the principle "that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."

These days, however, it is popular to believe in positive rights: "I have the right to a job, to health care, to a livable wage, to a cell phone, and to education." The problem is you do not have these as rights. No one has a moral claim on these things. Government cannot give an education to one person without first stealing property from another person. Why does a group of people get to force one person to pay for another person's education? Why does this same group get to coerce you to educate your children in a certain way? With the false notion of positive rights becoming ever more entrenched, the state has become the biggest violator of God-given rights as they take away liberty and property so that they can hand out education and force you to take it. It is morally wrong.

The Oklahoma Constitution does require the state to provide for common education, but since there is no moral duty or obligation to provide it, we must find a moral way to provide it. The solution is simple, and it has nothing to do with teacher pay raises, requiring creation science, or mandating gender neutral bathrooms. We should simply abolish state schools. This would solve all of the practical problems that attend monopolies, and it would solve the moral problem of coercing individuals to pay for and receive education. All schools should be private.They could be religious or secular, classical or home, Catholic or gay. The point is that they must be private.

In a moral state where all education is private, it would be up to each school to determine its own curriculum and locker room rules. With open competition in education, the possibilities are endless. If parents do not like what is offered at one school, they can find another one. If they do not like any of the school options in their area, then they can hire a private teacher for their children or teach their children themselves.

So how do we implement this moral system? The first step is for leaders of courage and integrity to stop giving the DOE more money. The DOE will just use it to hire more bowling coaches, copy machine managers, and Assistant Eighth-Grade-Girls-Vice-Principals whose actual jobs are to lobby for more money. How did we ever become the greatest nation on earth with predominately home schooling, private schooling, and a one-room schoolhouse -- a schoolhouse with one teacher who functioned as the principal, superintendent, and coach, and who answered directly to the local school board of parents? Throwing more money at state schools only makes things worse. It feeds the beast.

State schools are worshipped. From the glittering temple on every street corner, complete with red, blue, and yellow gilt playgrounds, to the pillars of the Vatican-like Memorial Stadium, education is the most popular religion and the most powerful lobby in the state. The priests at the teacher's unions, whose full-time job is to demonize those who oppose more money for schools, coordinate the marching orders and messages of teachers, staff, administrators, and even students. I stood in a senator's office and listened to voicemail after voicemail from high school students, calls made during school hours from multiple campuses in support of more money. One student, who called to instruct the senator how to vote, whined, "The only reason I don't know much about [the bill] is because I don't have a complete education yet, and I would like to get one," implying, of course, that he will not be educated unless the vote is cast for more money.

Secondly, education funds must be returned to the parents. Unrestricted vouchers or savings accounts are reasonable options. Parents want them, and their elected officials would like to oblige, but this year the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Brian Bingman, and the Speaker of the House, Jeff Hickman, caved to the pressure of the DOE lobby and would not allow such ideas to receive a hearing or a vote.

We have parents hungry for a choice in education. We have students eager to learn. We have good teachers who want to be free to teach and to be compensated fairly. If we want to serve them all justly and well, then the best way to accomplish our goals is to see every neighborhood and every family in the state as a potential customer and client for every teacher. A state-run monopoly is the reason parents cannot choose the education they want for their children. Poorly-managed, over-staffed, and over-administered school districts are the real reasons teachers cannot be compensated as they deserve. Instead of giving more money and power to state schools, we should create the biggest free-market in education this nation has ever seen. We should give parents the money, the power, and the choice when it comes to education, and then we will see an explosion of creative, effective, and efficient schools in every neighborhood in Oklahoma.

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