- Ada, Oklahoma

January 22, 2014

Pay now or pay later

Dick Scalf Guest Writer

Ada — I don’t remember the product being advertised, but there was a commercial on television several years ago that really stuck with me. The punch line was “You can pay me now or you can pay me later,” with the implication that you can pay some now or a lot more later. I think of that when I keep a piece of machinery past its useful life and spend more on repairs than a new one would cost.

The concept is true in every aspect of life, both personally and nationally.  It is true in the maintenance of our autos and homes, and it is true in the maintenance of our infrastructure. If we don’t maintain our streets and highways, how much more do we pay in auto maintenance? How much business does it cost local merchants?  How many potential businesses don’t locate here and how much does that cost? 

Nowhere is the concept more true than in the area of education, whether you are talking about a plumber or a scientist.  We know that a well-educated individual is more likely to find employment, to earn more money, to pay more taxes, and need fewer social services.  

Conversely, an undereducated individual is more likely to be unemployed, to earn less when employed, to need more social services, and more likely to be part of the criminal justice system at some time in their life.  

Almost everyone agrees that our standard of living and our competitiveness in the world economy absolutely depend on a well-educated workforce.  If education is that important, why do we as a Nation and a State continue to operate on the cheap when the return on investment is huge?    

According to an article in USA Today, per pupil spending in Oklahoma from 2008 to 2014 decreased by 23 percent, the largest percentage decrease of any state since the recession started. This while Oklahoma weathered the recession better than most states and Oklahoma legislators obsessed about reducing income taxes.

My parents’ formal education ended at the fifth grade and I had no thoughts of going to college. Although we received no direct benefits, the G. I. Bill changed the course of my life and that of my younger brother and our children and grandchildren.  My older brother came home from the Korean War and started to college because of that program, and we followed his example like millions of veterans and their families. Historians and economists consider the G.I. Bill a major contributor to America’s long-term economic growth and rise of the middle class. 

Most of us put our money where our real priorities are. If we are really concerned about costs to our grandchildren, then we need to invest in the future of all youth from Pre-K to vo-tech to PhD, and approach it in the same spirit that we developed the space program or fought WWII. 

In this case, we can pay now or they will pay a lot more later.

Dick Scalf is a retired civil and environmental engineer, former city councilman and mayor of Ada. He owns and operates a cattle ranch near Fittstown.