OK court okays ballot question to address historic ed funding cuts


by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of yesfor779.org

Oklahoma educators and residents, reeling from nearly a decade of historic school budget cuts, are celebrating last week’s ruling by the state Supreme Court that opens the door to a sales tax that, if approved by voters in November, would address the state’s growing teacher shortage and education budget crisis with a constitutionally protected source of revenue.

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The court issued an order June 1 recognizing the 301,512 signatures certified by the Secretary of State. The signature requirement to get on the November ballot was 123,000.

State Question 779 increases the state sales tax by 1 cent. It will generate $615 million annually specifically dedicated for education funding, including teacher pay. The ballot question adds a new Article to the Oklahoma Constitution and would increase the state’s average teacher salary, currently ranked 48th in the nation.

OK 779 TOY graphic“We’re delighted that the State Supreme Court decision means SQ 779 is another step closer to appearing on the November ballot,” said Alicia Priest, a middle school Spanish teacher and president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

Priest added, “Oklahoma has cut its education budget more than any other state since 2008. The result has been thousands of lost teaching positions, ever-growing class sizes and more than 1,000 emergency teacher certificates just this year. The loss of educational programs that met the needs of our students is devastating.”

In addition to guaranteeing a $5,000 raise for every Oklahoma teacher, the ballot question allocates:

  • $125 million for higher education
  • $50 million for early childhood programs grants
  • $50 million for grants, and
  • $20 million for vocation and technology education

The ballot question specifically prohibits any of the funding to be used for superintendent salaries.

Amber England, executive director of Stand for Children Oklahoma and supporter of State Question 779, said in a statement:

“We appreciate the quick work of the Oklahoma Supreme Court in certifying the signatures. We are one step closer to passing State Question 779, which will provide a comprehensive funding solution to reverse Oklahoma’s school funding crisis and provide all teachers with a $5,000 pay raise.”

Not lost on ballot question suporters were the number of signatures collected.

Said Priest:

The penny sales tax petition gathered more than 301,000 signatures in just 45 days — the most signatures ever gathered for an Oklahoma initiative. That tells us that Oklahomans want SQ 799. Parents, teachers and community members across the state are saying enough is enough. Our politicians won’t fund our public schools, so we’ll do it ourselves.

If approved, the ballot question will take effect July 1, 2017.

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