Ashli Sims, News On 6
TULSA, Oklahoma -- State Question 744 has pitted education advocates against each other, flooded the air waves with commercials and cost millions.
"I just can't see any parent being against something that's going to benefit their child," Stephanie Hallum, a mother of three, said.
"It's truly for our children, that we need to vote no right now," said Stacie Gentry, also a mother of three.
Stacie Gentry is voting no on State Question 744. It's a constitutional amendment that would require the state to boost its spending per student to the regional average.
As a mother of three, all of them in public education, Gentry said she was in favor of 744 at first.
"As a mom I also want to make sure that my child is getting the very best," she said. "And so when I heard there was opposition to something that would benefit, it raised my awareness."
Governor Brad Henry, both of the candidates to replace him, Tulsa's former mayor and both leaders of Oklahoma's largest universities have all lined up against 744, all while admitting education needs adequate funding.
Federal statistics show Oklahoma lagged behind the region in per student spending in 2008. Texas spent $667 more per student and Kansas outpaced Oklahoma by more than $2,000.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute estimates it would cost nearly two billion dollars over the next three years to bring Oklahoma to the middle of the pack.
"What I see with State Question 744 is a lack of a solid, concrete, ready, hands on now source of money and that's something that we need," Gentry said.
Supporters say it's as simple as cutting one of the state's many tax exemptions. Opponents argue the money will have to come from either a big tax hike or big cuts at state agencies.
News On 6 took a look at Arkansas to see how they can afford to spend more per student than Oklahoma, while Arkansas residents only pay an average of $53 more in income taxes.
Arkansas citizens pay a little more, but the state also prioritizes its budget differently. It spends $0.48 out of every state dollar on K-12 education; Oklahoma spends $40.
Oklahoma spends half a billion dollars on prisons for a prison population that's roughly the size of the city of Owasso. Arkansas spends almost half that amount and has 40 percent fewer prisoners.
Stephanie Hallum is also a mother of three who thinks Oklahoma needs to rethink its budget priorities.
"I view it as our children should be the priority, so I'll be willing to sacrifice in other areas to benefit my son's education," she said.
Hallum says her son's kindergarten class was so full they could barely step around all of the cots at nap time. Her family recently moved back home from Texas and she's concerned Oklahoma schools don't measure up.
"We moved here from Texas, and I absolutely feel that we took a little step back," she said. "I love the people here. I absolutely just enjoy Oklahoma. But I do feel like our schools are behind."
Read more about State Question 744 and other state questions on the ballot at NewsOn6.com/politics.