Oklahoma Funding Battle Heating Up

Last Updated: October 30, 2009

This article appeared in the October 2009 Rural Policy Matters.

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The battle over school funding in Oklahoma is heating up. After the State Supreme Court threw out a school finance lawsuit in 2007, public school advocates and the Oklahoma Education Association collected enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment requiring more state funding for schools on the 2010 ballot.
State Question 744, also known as the HOPE (Helping Oklahoma Public Education) initiative, would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to require the state to increase per-pupil spending to at least the regional average of six surrounding states (Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, and Texas). All six states have higher spending levels than Oklahoma, which ranks in the bottom four nationally on student spending.
Opponents of the HOPE initiative say tax increases and cuts in other agencies are the only way to pay for the additional funding. Last month, the House Appropriations Budget Committee released a report that estimates the state would need an additional $850 million over a three-year period if the initiative is approved. The report calculates that amount to equal a 20% reduction in support for other state agencies or a 40% increase in taxes, assuming no significant economic growth.
The Committee also asked the heads of several state agencies to comment on what a shift of $850 million from their budgets to education would mean and were told that the state would face fewer road repairs, prisoner releases, state trooper layoffs, and cuts in services for elders and children, among other consequences. But HOPE supporters have challenged as "scare tactics" what they call a "doomsday scenario" in the Committee report.
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