Mary Fallin

Tulsa World Editorial: Gov. Fallin Brings New Level of Accountability to State Government

February 15, 2015
The Tulsa World

Gov. Mary Fallin has introduced a fascinating idea into state government — accountability.

In her State of the State address, Fallin rolled out , an online set of measurable goals (complete with tracking indicators) for how she wants state government to improve the lives of Oklahomans.

It’s part of a broader effort, performance-informed budgeting. That means that in the future, lawmakers will be able to look at defined metrics to determine what state efforts are working and what efforts are not working as they determine how to spend the public’s money.

Imagine that.

Fallin’s website sets out five ambitious, broad and nearly universally accepted goals for the state: healthy citizens and strong families; safe citizens and secure communities; educated citizens and exemplary schools; prosperous citizens and thriving economy, and effective services and accountable government.

As you drill into those goals, things become much more specific with defined opportunities, achievements and quality metrics that give real definition to the governor’s vision of the future.

For example, under education, there are four “opportunities” (early childhood education, need-based aid, special education, and advances offerings), four areas of “achievement” (high school completion, college preparedness, workforce training and higher education) and two areas of “quality” measurement (school excellence and student performance).

Within each of those are metrics for progress that spell out current status, specific goals and give clear definitions of key elements, such as the objective, why it is important and what the results mean. For example, in the early childhood education set, we see that one objective is to increase the number of families receiving early learning home visiting services from 7,517 in 2014 to 7,893 by 2019, and that this is important because children who participate in-home visiting programs are less like to engage in future drug and alcohol abuse, overeating and sexual promiscuity, all of which lead to poorer quality of life as an adult, greater risk of chronic or mental illness and other problems that wreck lives and inevitably wind up costing taxpayers. As the effort continues, taxpayers will be able to track the number of kids getting the service on a chart.

Other early childhood education goals include: increasing Head Start enrollment from 61.3 percent to 64 percent, maintaining 99 percent of public school districts offering pre-kindergarten programs and increasing the percentage of kindergartners who are enrolled in full-day programs from 97.7 percent to 99 percent.

The governor’s office says the goals she has set are realistically achievable and fit with what Oklahomans want for their tax dollars. That of course is up for debate, but the marvelous thing about this process is that Fallin has had the courage to state her goals with specificity, to explain why she had chosen them and to define how she plans to achieve them.

Oklahoma is the first state in the country to take this type of approach to goal-setting and measurement that will be linked to funding. We enthusiastically congratulate Fallin for a bold and transparent step that deserves the respect of everyone, especially those who want to debate the governor’s strategies and tactics.

The idea that in the future we could write a state budget with a rational eye toward what we want to do and whether we’re actually getting it done is nothing short of path-breaking.

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