Because I have consistently voted against tax increases, I have been told I don’t support teachers or education; this is far from the truth. I want to publicly state that I do support and respect our teachers and public schools. There are, however, other ways to provide money without raising taxes on our lower and middle income taxpayers.
I’ve diligently worked for funding for teacher pay raises and public education, and will continue to do so. House Bill 3440, which I co-authored, is an example of one measure that would give some relief. It would designate revenue already earned by the state Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO) be used to supplement teacher pay on top of what schools already receive from the CLO. This bill is not an end-all solution, but it would give more money to teachers. If it had been in place this school year, the state’s 41,000-plus teachers would have each received an addition $2,500.
Any tax increase should come by a vote of the people. If the people want to increase the tax on gasoline and diesel, on cigarettes, on oil and gas production, on wind energy, on income earnings or any other thing, they should be allowed to do this on a state ballot. It should not be me deciding to raise taxes on people living paycheck to paycheck or low- or middle-income families.
The Legislature only has the authority to appropriate about 56 percent of the entire state revenue. Of that 56 percent, 34 percent goes to common education – K-12 schools. The other 44 percent goes straight to agencies, including other education sources such as $750 million to the 1017 Fund, $300 million to teachers’ retirement and $385 million to an overall education fund; as well as $411 million to the Department of Transportation’s 8-year plan, and $120 million to County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund.
Of the appropriated dollars, education receives more than half. That was $3.5 billion out of $6.9 billion for Fiscal year 2018. All other state services – public safety, roads and bridges, public health and mental health care services and others must be funded with the remaining state appropriations.
In addition, when all funding sources – state appropriations, federal funds, local ad valorem dollars, other county and municipal sources, lottery and tribal casino funds --- are totaled, school revenue increased from $6.2 billion in 2006 to $8.8 billion in 2016. Per-pupil revenue increased from $9,824 per pupil in 2006 to $12,722 in 2016. I think a portion of this money should go to teacher pay raises.
While I want teachers to make more money, I must be fiscally responsible with tax dollars for all the citizens I represent.
I’m working with other legislators to find a solution for teachers before the April 2 walkout. I don’t know that we will be able to meet the demand by the state’s teacher’s union of $1.4 billion in additional funding over the next three years, but I do believe we can find a way to get more money for teachers.
I must point out a note of caution. The state is required to test 95 percent of its students in order to receive federal funds for free and reduced-priced lunches, special education students and others. To stage a walkout during the state’s testing window puts those funds at risk.
I also would point out a bit of history about teacher walkouts. The last time Oklahoma teachers staged a massive walkout, it did result in House Bill 1017, which raised a number of taxes to send more dollars to schools. The backlash by the public, however, was to raise enough signatures to put State Question 640 on the ballot. The resulting change to the state Constitution requires that revenue-raising measure receive a 75 percent vote in the House and state Senate to pass. The Legislature has never been able to meet that threshold. The only other way taxes can be raised is by a vote of the people, and that is as it should be.
John Bennett represents Oklahoma House District 2. He can be reached at (405) 557-7315 or John.Bennett@okhouse.gov.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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