A ‘trusted source for fact-based public policy analysis’ – those are the self-described words of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Established over 25 years ago, the OCPA has paved the way for a number of new policies within the state, claiming to have the best interests of families, businesses, children, and taxpayers at heart. However, on more than one occasion, the OCPA has been laced with controversy, begging the question: can we trust a group that says one thing and does another?
Throughout their existence, the OCPA has consistently advocated for the public funding of private schools across Oklahoma, through the use of things such as tax credits and vouchers. The non-profit think tank often talks on the topic of ‘government schools’ and how the Oklahoma state does not have a duty to take care of the impoverished. While the group clearly and loudly opposes the funding of public schools and desires an emphasis on private education, this does not explain why they recently took a six-figure payout from the government. How can a non-profit lobbyist group that fights for funding going to private schools then accept the same level of public government funding in order to fuel their efforts?
2020 ethics filings have revealed expenditures of $400,000 from the OCPA in their quest to defeat the question of Medicaid expansion, just one report of nine that were filed. Simultaneously, they were the recipients of a six-figure PPP loan thought to be in the region of $150,000 to $350,000 in order to pay their staff. Would a wise non-profit group not simply pay their staff first? Instead, they used a hefty chunk of their budget on advertising against a welfare program designed to protect the poor.
Not only does funding private schools have a noticeable impact on the state budget, but it is also a campaign built on false figures, with fellow Brandon Dutcher claiming that there were over 100,000 Oklahoma students in private education. In actuality, this figure has been proved to be less than half that number. Not only this, but in 2016, Dave Bond from the OCPA claimed that a new law on school employee health insurance would free up $100 million which could be used to solve the problem of teacher pay rises. However, yet again, this ‘trusted source fact-based public policy analysis’ were exposed for peddling misleading numbers.
While the actions of the OCPA are not illegal, they certainly raise some moral questions. Making public arguments to politicians and voters on the state of the education sector while using misleading or false numbers is, whatever way you look at it, morally corrupt. If the OCPA is aware of the false figures, then they are simply leveraging their position as an apparent trusted fact source in order to pedal their own agendas. If they are not aware of the false numbers, then they are simply inadequate within their role.
What is certain is that this ‘trusted’ group are using their funding and influence, not for the best of the state as a whole, but to drive an agenda in favor of the wealthy elite and against the struggling poor.