Oklahomans To Decide Penny Sales Tax For Education
OKLAHOMA CITY - Supporters of public education in Oklahoma say Tuesday's election could not be more important.
Voters will decide whether to approve a penny sales tax increase to pay for teacher raises. They'll also pick from nearly three dozen pro-education candidates vying for seats in the state Legislature.
The sales tax proposed in State Question 779 would generate roughly $550 million annually for public education, including a $5,000 across-the-board pay hike for teachers. Municipalities fear that, if Question 779 passes, the public's tax burden would be so great that voters will reject future bond issues.
The state's revenue shortfall had school districts scrambling recently to make ends meet. Hundreds of teachers were laid off and some districts switched to a four-day school week. Some superintendents lost teachers to districts out of state.
Support for the sales tax isn't universal. Opponents include mayors of more than three-dozen cities, including Tulsa and Oklahoma City, who contend the tax would be too burdensome on residents and might jeopardize efforts to pass future bond packages to pay for things like road repairs and public safety.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said last month that legislators need to address shortcomings in a way that prevents cities and towns from being "stepped on."
"You don't just throw money irrationally at a problem, and this is what that seems to be," Cornett said.
Oklahoma's average public school teacher pay, for grades K-12, was $45,317 -- ranking 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia -- last year.