Tulsa Voters Weigh Teacher Pay Raises Over Higher Sales Tax At Forum

Tuesday, September 13th 2016, 10:33 pm
By: News On 6

Should Oklahomans pay a higher sales tax, giving the money to a crumbling education system?

That's the question on the table as education policy experts met with voters about State Question 779, also known as the penny tax.

In November, voters will decide -- Do they want to give Oklahoma teachers their first raises in over eight years, even though it would give Oklahoma the highest sales tax rate in the country?

Many Oklahomans, like Wendy Thomas, don't know what to think of State Question 779.

"I'm here tonight just to educate myself on this important vote coming up. I haven't made up my mind yet," she said.

Tuesday night, dozens of people like Thomas showed up to a forum held by Oklahoma Watch to learn more about the tax plan.

Here's the breakdown:

  • The tax would raise a predicted $615 million a year.
  • Most of that would go to teachers' salary raises.
  • About one-fifth would go toward Oklahoma colleges and universities.
  • $50 million, each, would be spent on grants and early childhood education, like Pre-K programs.
  • And $20 million would go to vocational schools.

Now, they call it a penny tax, but it's actually an extra cent on every dollar you spend in the state.

Some voters are concerned that extra bit would make it even harder for Oklahoma's poor families to make ends meet.

"Is this the most just way to achieve our goal of paying teachers what they need to be paid to educate our children," one person asked.

Others said there's no other choice; Oklahoma's education system needs help now.

“If not this, specifically, realistically, what? And if not now, when? Because I am tired of waiting for my kids," another said.

If State Question 779 passes, public school teachers would get a raise of $5,000 a year.