If Oklahoma wants to be a top 10 state, we must clearly define that goal. We should measure those things that make a state a good place to live. A state might pride itself on being first in the nation in hummingbirds per capita, but who cares? It is also important to focus on things government can actually control. The Yosemite and the Grand Canyon make their home states attractive, but the governments of those states have nothing to do with the appeal. The methods used must also be appropriate to the ends sought. Even being the state with the healthiest people in the country would be unattractive if it were accomplished through a rigid be-healthy-or-be-jailed regime.
Oklahoma should strive to maximize economic opportunity, create a neutral playing ground that does not favor entrenched interests, and spend efficiently for essential services. Every program should have a clearly defined outcome, and programs that fail to meet their goals should be eliminated or restructured. For instance, in education, there is a misguided focus on per-student funding; what matters is student outcomes. Performance on national standardized tests that measure student knowledge would show how effective our schools are.
Government should measure its effectiveness, not its effort. Any time anyone touts or laments the total money allocated to a program, it is a red flag that they are focusing too much on effort. Of course, funding levels matter to a certain extent. Programs can’t exist without a sufficient budget, but money inputs cannot determine whether a program is going in the right direction. Pouring money into a failing program without addressing the structural problems is like pouring water into a full glass: it’s nothing but waste. Better to divert it elsewhere, or save it.
That is not to say that cost is not an important part of measuring success. If one program costs $12 billion, and has a 95% effectiveness rate, while a comparable program would cost only $500 million and be 94% effective, the legislature should seriously consider the latter. Efficiency measures that show the cost per unit of effectiveness are among the best tools for legislatures to evaluate whether to create or continue a program.
Instead of inputs alone, policymakers should focus on the outcomes of their programs. How much do students know when they leave our schools? Is the tax climate one that will encourage new businesses to open and move to Oklahoma?
Perhaps the legislature should attach measurable goals to their bills. This would help evaluate whether the laws are effective. As a bonus, it would create transparency as to the true intent of the bill.
Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.