Oklahoma Educators Say SQ 800 Would Cost Schools Millions

Tuesday, October 9th 2018, 10:18 pm
By: Ashley Izbicki

Voters will head to the polls in four weeks to decide six statewide measures. One of them has to do with two hot topics in Oklahoma: oil and gas production taxes and education. 

State Question 800 would create another reserve fund using money from the Gross Production Tax. Supporters say it'll make Oklahoma less reliant on oil and gas, but opponents say it's only going to hurt students.

It's been six months since educators led a 9-day walkout, winning their fight for more funding and better pay.

"We need to ensure that we have a long-term funding plan for education and continue to fund our teacher pay raise," said Dr. Shawn Hime, executive director of the OSSBA.

Right now, local school districts get 10 percent of the gross production taxes collected in their county. 

State Question 800 would take 5 percent of the GPT and put that money into what's called the Oklahoma Vision Fund. 

"We just raised gross production taxes in order to pay for the teacher pay raise. So how are we going to continue that teacher pay raise if we have two funds that then siphon off a portion of the tax?" Hime asked.

Oklahoma already has two reserve funds. 

Lawmakers backing the measure say in 15 to 20 years, this trust fund would generate more income through investments than the amount of money put into it.

Representative John Montgomery says quote:

"The point of this is to end reliance on this unstable source of revenue over time. It doesn't happen overnight. Every single oil and gas state does this except for us. If it didn't work for the other states, they wouldn't be doing it too."

"Many of those states he refers to were already well funded in the education arena. Oklahoma was dead last in education," Hime said.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association is estimating if voters pass this, public schools could lose tens of millions. 

"Every dollar that's redirected to this fund is a dollar that could have gone to educate our children, could have gone to lower class sizes, or increased teacher pay," said Dr. Shawn Hime, OSSBA.

If this passes, it would go into effect in 2020. 

Every year after that, the amount of GPT that goes into the fund would go up by .2 percent, and the OSSBA says that means education funding from the GPT would eventually reach zero.