The state’s Supreme Court allowed a proposed initiative petition to increase Oklahoma’s education funding through an additional $0.01 sales tax to move forward Tuesday.
In a 6-3 vote, justices denied an appeal led by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs Impact organization. OCPA Impact had argued that the proposed petition bundled common education and higher education under one umbrella in violation of the state’s single-subject constitutional requirement. A majority of justices disagreed.
“We are delighted that the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of sending the initiative petition forward,” Amber England, director of Stand for Children Oklahoma, said in a released statement. “Oklahomans deserve the opportunity to solve the state’s education funding crisis by voting to pass this plan. We will begin immediately with the signature collection process and already have the staff and resources in place to get this measure on the ballot. In light of the current budget crisis, time is of the essence. This is the only plan on the table to keep us from falling to dead last in the nation for education funding and teacher pay.”
England noted over the phone that the signature-collection process will actually begin in 35 days at the earliest. Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge will set the date. Then, Gov. Mary Fallin will set an election date if signature requirements are met within 90 days of collections beginning.
Fallin, Benge and other Republican legislative leaders have been working to craft their own education reform/improvement plan, as first reported on NonDoc. Still, state leaders face a nearly $1 billion projected budget shortfall that could make raising teacher pay difficult, even though doing so appears to have bipartisan support.
England, meanwhile, expressed optimism that the Oklahoma’s Children — Our Future effort will be able to obtain the 123,725 signatures required for the proposed constitutional change. In addition to raising an estimated $650 million per year for teacher raises, school grants, higher education and other efforts, the proposal will fundamentally change the way the Legislature handles education appropriations, something that has drawn the ire of OCPA Impact and others.
OCPA Impact’s CEO, Dave Bond, released a statement Tuesday afternoon about his organization’s opposition to the petition moving forward.
“OCPA Impact: More than a ‘penny tax’ in Boren proposal” by Dave Bond
“In the coming months, we will continue our effort to prevent the Boren tax increase, making sure all Oklahomans understand the Boren proposal would force them to pay the highest sales tax burden in the nation, and nearly half the money from the tax increase would never go to teachers,” Bond said. “We’ll also work during the legislative session, which is about to begin, to advance an alternative option for funding real pay raises for every teacher in Oklahoma and hiring additional teachers to address the shortages many classrooms face across the state. This can be accomplished without teachers having to give up a portion of their pay raise because of a tax increase, and if the Legislature acts this session, teachers can start receiving the pay raise immediately, as opposed to next year.”
The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Oklahoma Education Association also released a joint statement Tuesday applauding the court’s ruling.
“We are grateful for the leadership of David Boren and others who stepped up to find a solution that specifically addresses the severe teacher shortage,” the release said. “The governing boards of CCOSA, OSSBA and OEA have voted in support of the initiative, and we pledge our support in making sure that the November 2016 election becomes a resounding reflection of just how much Oklahomans believe in our children and dedicated educators.”
Boren launched the initiative at the state Capitol on Oct. 21, 2015, and released a list of formal supporters. Members include:
- billionaire philanthropist and oil mogul George Kaiser
- musician Toby Keith
- former OSU basketball coach Eddie Sutton
- Heisman Trophy-winner Steve Owens
- Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby
- Choctaw Nation Gov. Gary Batton
- Olympic gymnast Bart Conner
The influential surnames Stephenson, Rainbolt and Schusterman also punctuate the list.
(Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12., to include OCPA Impact’s statement, which was released after initial publication.)
“Boren launches campaign to fund education through tax” by William W. Savage III