A coalition of educators in Oklahoma have joined with civic leaders in the creation of a petition seeking a statewide vote on a one-cent tax that would provide funding for public schools and offer teachers a raise in an effort to deal with a chronic teacher shortage.
Referred to as “Oklahoma’s Children, Our Future,” the coalition filed the petition with the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office earlier this week. If enough certified signatures are obtained, the 2016 ballot would see the inclusion of a proposed constitutional amendment raising the tax.
According to supporters, the tax would raise revenue that would help end the teacher shortage, increase college affordability, raise reading rates, aid graduation rates and boost career and technology training.
“With more than 1,000 teacher vacancies across the state despite schools eliminating more than 600 classes, we’ve reached a point where we can no longer wait to address this crisis facing our schools and, more importantly, Oklahoma’s children,” Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma teacher of the year, said in a statement announcing the petition’s launch.
Cuts made to the education system in the state since 2008 have been some of the deepest in the nation, according to University of Oklahoma President David Boren. Because of this, per pupil spending in Oklahoma dropped to 49th in the country.
The sales tax proposal would raise close to $615 million per year for public education in the state. The tax rate in Oklahoma is already one of the highest in the country at 8.77%.
Estimates suggest the tax would cost an average family in Oklahoma between $75 to $250 per year, writes Emily Wendler for KOSU.
Close to 70% of the earnings, or $424 million, would go toward a $5,000 annual increase in the minimum salary schedule for Oklahoma teachers. None of that funding would be put toward school administration costs.
Around $120 million would be given to higher education institutions to help with rising tuition costs and increase college completion rates.
An additional $50 million would be given to the Oklahoma Department of Education to fund grants for early learning opportunities to benefit low-income and at-risk children. The remaining $20 million will benefit industry certifications for workforce readiness through the CareerTech system.
The Secretary of State’s Office said the public has 10 days to protest the constitutionality of the petition. After that, 123,725 signatures from registered voters in the state must be collected within 90 days in order to have the measure included on the 2016 ballot.