David Boren
David Boren leads educators as they carry 86 boxes of signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State's office Thursday, April 21. (Provided)

Advocates of the Oklahoma’s Children — Our Future education funding proposal submitted 308,957 signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State on Thursday, virtually guaranteeing that the public will vote on the sales tax initiative this year.

“For us, this is a moral issue,” OU President David Boren said before carrying the first of 86 boxes from a press conference podium to Secretary of State Chris Benge.

Surrounded by dozens of educators on his 75th birthday, Boren told more than half-a-dozen TV cameras and other journalists that the enormous stack of signatures for State Question 779 will be the most turned in for an initiative petition in state history.

“I think private citizens are very frustrated and alarmed by the destruction of public education in the state,” Boren told NonDoc afterward, flanked by supporters Gene Rainbolt, Bart Conner and Melvin Moran. “That’s not the Oklahoma way. That’s not the Oklahoma standard.

“Nobody cares more about their children and grandchildren than we do. And I think those who think it is politically wise to avoid asking people to pay for something they need to pay for — and that’s a good education for their children — I think they’re making a mistake. I think they’re misreading the public mood.”

As if to prove Boren’s point, OCPA Impact CEO Dave Bond followed the former U.S. Senator’s presser with one of his own, and his message was that Republican state leaders need to pass a $5,000 teacher pay raise this session so as to take the legs — and higher pricetag — out from under SQ 779 in the fall.

“With over a month remaining during session, the Republicans who control the state Capitol absolutely have to do something to provide a $5,000 teacher pay raise,” Bond said after his press conference. “Not only to keep good teachers in the classroom in Oklahoma, but also to protect their constituents back home from feeling that their only option for keeping good teachers in Oklahoma is to increase their own sales tax burden to the highest in America.”

Conner, the famous Olympic gold medalist, said keeping good teachers in Oklahoma is his main motivating factor in supporting SQ 779.

“I have some friends who have left the state to get teaching jobs in Texas because they can’t afford to live here,” Conner said. “She’s a young lady, she just got her teaching degree. Her mother has been teaching 18 years in the state and doesn’t have an adequate salary even at that.

“These are really quality people. It’d sure be nice if they could be able to stay here as opposed to leaving the state to make a living,” Conner said.

Moran, a philanthropist and oil-industry leader who has served as mayor of Seminole, agreed.

“As President Boren said, there is nothing more important to the future of our state than education,” said Moran, who noted he is campaigning for SQ 779 personally and financially. “There is no possibility of additional funding in the next few years if this doesn’t go through.”


Boren launches campaign to fund education through tax by William W. Savage III

Bond disagreed, handing out a two-page “menu of $753 million worth of options for providing the $245 million necessary to give every Oklahoma public school classroom teacher a $5,000 pay raise.”

While some items listed would only provide revenue once, others include $88 million that OCPA Impact says would be saved by eliminating the state tax credit for wind power facilities. Bond said legislators who have already passed bills that would collect between an estimated $150 million and $300 million from sales taxes on Internet purchases would be foolish to make those votes without also voting for ways to raise teacher pay.

“If they’re going to go home and run for re-election having passed that (internet sales tax expansion), but not having passed a teacher pay raise, yikes,” Bond said, noting broad polling support for a teacher raise.

After Boren and his effort’s supporters loaded the signature boxes into Benge’s office, Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger greeted the OU president on the Capitol’s first floor.

“It’s not too late to sign,” Boren joked to Doerflinger, the governor’s budget secretary.

Doerflinger confirmed to NonDoc that alternatives to SQ 779 are being considered by Republican leadership at the Capitol.

Boren, meanwhile, played coy when asked why he thought the Legislature has been unable to muster the political will for increased education funding thus far. Instead, he focused on how Oklahomans are learning “how critical this problem is.”

“I never thought we’d go to four-day school weeks. I never thought we’d have such a huge shortage of teachers in Oklahoma. I never thought we’d sink to the bottom of what we spend on education,” Boren said. “This may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a solution that will work, and it’s enough money to make a difference. You can’t put a Band-Aid on this.”

The coalition began collecting signatures on Feb. 16 and needed 123,735 to meet the requirement for a constitutional change that will adjust the way common and higher education are funded in Oklahoma. Boren said it will protect the effort against future legislative cuts. Not only did the coalition turn in more than twice as many signatures as required to make the ballot, it did so with more than three weeks to spare.

“I consider myself a moderately conservative person, and I’m not for big government, red tape, regulations, bureaucrats, all of that,” Boren said after his press event. “But good education is not big government, anymore than law enforcement or the fire department is. Good education is just a moral obligation we have to our kids. Someone came up to me yesterday and said, ‘What we’re doing to our children is a sin.'”

Listening a few feet away, Rainbolt chimed in: “That’s the right word — sin.”

(Correction: This story has been updated to refer to the Oklahoma’s Children — Our Future campaign correctly)