State Question 801: Why I’m Voting No

Last week, Governor Fallin announced that she was adding State Question 801 to the November ballot.  This measure would amend the state constitution to allow districts to use local property taxes (called ad valorem) for school operations instead of just for buildings and related expenses.  The idea behind this proposed change is that districts can use this money to fund increases in teacher pay.  Sounds great, right?

Nope.  There are many problems with this proposal and I’ll go through a few of them below.

  1. State Question 801 represents a failure of leadership and allows the state Legislature to shirk their responsibility to adequately fund Oklahoma schools.  It is the Legislature’s responsibility to “raise appropriate funds for the annual support of the common schools” (Article XIII, Section 1a of the Oklahoma Constitution).  Appropriate funds include adequate salaries for teachers– a standard not yet met even with the recent salary adjustment that began August 1.
  2. This measure will also potentially exacerbate existing inequity between low-income and affluent districts.  More affluent districts with buildings in good shape may have more in their building funds to allow them to raise teacher pay.  We already see that affluent districts are able to recruit and retain teachers with more experience and more training.  Districts who serve larger low-income populations have fewer applicants for positions, hire more teachers without any preparation, and lose more teachers every year.  If affluent districts are able to pay more on top of the other amenities of working there, it will hurt students in less affluent districts when the most qualified, experienced teachers flock to higher paying districts.  Sure, this is great for students and families in districts that increase pay (including, probably, where my kids go to school), but what about the students left behind?
  3. Amending the Oklahoma Constitution in this way does not provide districts with any additional money– only the ability to use the money they already have for different purposes.  The Oklahoma Policy Institute has a great blog post explaining this.
  4. The ability to use ad valorem funds for teacher pay puts teacher salaries in direct, local competition with other pressing needs of districts.  Imagine a superintendent or school board weighing the choice between increasing teacher pay and paying for facility repairs.  Consider asking your kids’ teachers if they would want their pay to be in competition with fixing leaky pipes or updating the playground.  I suspect the teachers I know would say no.

If SQ 801 passes, I imagine the state Legislature will declare their work on education funding done and try to ignore #oklaed again.  Let’s not give them the satisfaction.

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