Breaking down State Question 779: Will you pony up for education?

October 1, 2016 Commentary, Editorials, Featured Slider Print Print
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Sophia Babb, Pioneer Editor, editor@occc.edu

Sophia Babb, Pioneer Editor, editor@occc.edu

State Question 779, also known as the Oklahoma One Percent Sales Tax, will be on the upcoming November 8 ballot. Oklahoma voters should vote yes on the question.

The proposal is a proposed constitutional amendment that levies a one percent tax increase, the proceeds would be used for funding Oklahoma’s education systems. Specific funds from the increase will be allocated for teacher pay raises, increasing reading scores in early grades, improving college readiness, and making college more affordable.

Ballotpedia lays out the meaning of a “yes” or “no” vote as following:

A “yes” vote for SQ 779 is a vote in favor of increasing the state sales tax by one percent to generate a predicted $615 million per year for education funding.

A “no” vote for SQ 779 is a vote against increasing the state sales tax.

SQ 779 comes at a vital time for Oklahoma education. Many public schools are suffering from inadequate funding and teacher shortages, caused by legislative budget cuts.

Earlier this year, a three percent decrease in oil revenue caused a loss of $900 million in the state budget. Major cuts were made to agencies across the state, including the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education.

A study by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association showed Oklahoma school districts started the fall semester with more than 500 vacancies in teaching positions. In addition, 1300 support staff and teaching assistant positions have been eliminated since the 2015-2016 school year.

Teacher shortages have increased classroom sizes and heightened the number of underqualified teachers hired with emergency teaching certificates. The executive director Shawn Hime of the OSSBA said people who have never trained a day as a teacher are now responsible for teaching elementary school students how to read and do math.

“We have high school students who can’t take Spanish because their school can’t find a teacher,” Hime said.

Shortened school weeks have also presented obstacles for low-income students who rely on school meals for their main source of nutrition. A 2015-2016 report by the Oklahoma State Department of Education shows that two out of three Oklahoma students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.

Removing a day from the school week would cause some children to go three days without an adequate meal.

Oklahoma education is ranked 46th in the nation for education quality by the Education Week Research Center, with rankings calculated on the basis of K-12 achievement, student chance for success, and the amount of school financing received from the state. Without an increase of funding for schools and teachers, Oklahoma’s ranking will likely stay the same.

SQ 779 gives public school teachers a $5,000 pay raise. The current average salary for Oklahoma teachers is $44,549, which is below the $47,887 regional average. If SQ 779 is passed, Oklahoma teachers will earn as much as Texas and Colorado educators. This raise could not be used for superintendent salaries and cannot be used to fund superintendent positions.

The expansion of existing programs and the adoption of new programs will also be a part of SQ 779. Higher graduation rates, college and career readiness, and the improvement of reading skills in early grades are the focus of academic initiatives addressed in SQ 779.

Opponents of SQ 779 include Sen. Kyle Loveless. Loveless wrote a public statement against SQ 779, saying the legislature needs to lead the charge in reducing the number of districts and eliminate wasteful mandates.

See analysis of other State Questions appearing on this year’s ballot here.

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