Teachers, educators, and lawmakers were anxiously awaiting the outcome of State Question 779 when former governor and United States Senator David Boren announced the loss.
State Question 779, also known as the Oklahoma One Percent Sales Tax, would have amended the Oklahoma Constitutional. The proposal would have levied a one percent tax increase that would used for funding Oklahoma’s struggling education system and would have given 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.
“I have sad news for us, especially for the well being of our children and the education of the next generation,” Boren said. “It would appear that we are going to be on the short side of the vote tonight.”
Earlier this year, a three percent decrease in oil revenue caused a loss of $900 million in state tax revenue. Most state agencies, including the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education, faced cuts.
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.
“We have a serious problem when a third of our school districts have gone to four day school weeks,” Boren said. “We have thousands of children with unqualified teachers in the classroom because we are not compensating our teachers well enough to be competitive to keep the best and brightest teachers in our state.”
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.
Jon Hazell, Oklahoma’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, was adamant about the need for a teacher pay raise.
“There are women who cannot support their families on their teacher salary,” Hazell said. “If I were a young teacher with young children, trying to support my wife and kids, and I was trying to stay here, I’d have to go where I can make enough money to support my family. Sooner or later, you have to decide if you’re going to be loyal to the state or to your family.”
Moving forward from the loss, Boren spoke of the future of education in Oklahoma.
“I think it is important for all of us to realize and celebrate tonight that we have started a conversation in Oklahoma all across our state. We’ve made the people of Oklahoma aware of this need,” Boren said. “We cannot secure our future by ignorance, and this campaign has alerted hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans.”
From 21c Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City, University of Oklahoma President David Boren makes his concession speech acknowledging that SQ 779 has failed.