Green Room

NEA Will Spend Up to $3 Million on Oklahoma School Funding Initiative

posted at 5:00 am on August 2, 2010 by

First published on Intercepts

This November, Oklahoma voters will decide the fate of State Question 744 (SQ 744), which would require the legislature to raise school per-pupil spending to the regional average. The measure does not designate a revenue source and will cost state taxpayers an estimated $850 million annually.

As you may have guessed, SQ 744 was the brainchild of the Oklahoma Education Association. OEA gathered signatures to place the initiative on the ballot and its parent affiliate, NEA, contributed more than $40,000 to fund opinion research on the idea.

OEA has only 23,451 active members, making it difficult to extract substantial sums for media buys and large-scale political advertising. The latest financial report from the Yes on 744 campaign shows the committee with less than $217,000 on hand, with only $1,162 in contributions in the month of June against nearly $42,000 in expenditures.

That will all change very soon, however. The National Education Association’s board of directors approved a disbursement of up to $3 million to OEA for the SQ 744 campaign from the national union’s Ballot Measure/Legislative Crises Fund. This is a large allocation to make to a single state, even for NEA, so the union will divide the expenditure into two grants of $1.5 million, taken from this year’s and next year’s NEA member contributions to the national fund.

It may be that the campaign will need every last dime, because opposition to the measure goes beyond business interests and taxpayer groups. The Oklahoma Policy Institute released a report on the measure’s impact and concluded it “would create real and serious damage to the state of Oklahoma.” The Oklahoma City Federation of Teachers opposed placing SQ 744 on the ballot in the first place. And the Oklahoma Public Employees Association joined the fight against the initiative.

As I demonstrated in my recent article for Education Next, in education there is no such thing as a “weak union state.” If there were only three OEA members, NEA could still spend $3 million in Oklahoma. The SQ 744 campaign illustrates better than anything why education labor issues in California, New Jersey and elsewhere affect every state, because that’s where the money for Oklahoma’s biggest political battle is coming from.

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