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Measure could derail Oklahoma school funding plan

Measure could derail Oklahoma school funding plan

This article first appeared on


By The Associated Press
Published: May 20, 2009

The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday adopted a resolution designed to counter an initiative petition seeking to compel lawmakers to significantly increase education spending.

The resolution calls for a statewide vote on amending the Constitution to bar any formula for distributing funds appropriated by the Legislature.

The Republican-sponsored bill was approved along party lines, with all 26 Republicans voting for it and all 22 Democrats opposing it.

Democrats said the plan will create confusion at the ballot box and called it an attempt to usurp the rights of citizens to petition for changes in their government.

Republicans said they were protecting the Legislature from being controlled by special interests.

The Helping Oklahoma Public Education, or HOPE, initiative petition requires lawmakers to appropriate an extra $850 million for schools over a three-year period. It is sponsored by Oklahoma Education Association and school support groups and is headed for a 2010 statewide vote.

Critics said the plan will cause financial problems for other agencies if such a large increase is mandated for education because of a requirement that the state meet the regional average of per student funding.

Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, said adoption of the HOPE plan would lead to debate on increasing taxes and create the need to drastically cut other needed state programs.

He said lawmakers need flexibility to set budget priorities and change them, based on unforeseen conditions.

"I think that's why we meet every four months of the year — to make those decisions," he prior to the Senate vote.

Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, argued on the floor that the Lamb resolution was an attempt to "dupe" the public into giving up their power and could lead to disenfranchising the "thousands of Oklahomans who come behind us who may have a different opinion on how their tax dollars should be spent."

"Are we being so insecure in this building that we can't trust the very people who sent us up here?" asked Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant. "If you have concerns with the HOPE petition, join me in southeastern Oklahoma on a flat bed truck to tell the people."

Roy Bishop, the OEA's president, said earlier Wednesday he is not surprised lawmakers want to defeat the plan to increase education funding.

"They don't want to fund our schools. If they can try to find a way out of it, they will," Bishop said.

"We're not worried about what the people of Oklahoma will do. We had over 200,000 people sign the initiative petition, and we believe the people of Oklahoma will do the right thing and support our schools," he added.

The resolution was sponsored in the House by freshman Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, who said it would create a huge budget hole that would hurt funding for highways and other programs. She said tying state education funding to the regional average amounts to an "unfunded mandate."

Legislative opponents of the OEA-backed plan also argue that lawmakers have been doing a good job supporting education from available funds. They said the percentage of the gross state product that is going to education in Oklahoma is higher than most other states.

Bishop, however, said the percentage of funding going to schools has dropped from about 39 percent after a school reform and tax bill was enacted in 1990 to about 35 percent now.

"Had that not occurred and they had maintained the 39 percent, education would not be in this situation," he said.

When the petition drive was announced at news conferences in Midwest City and Sand Springs, teachers complained of having to spend hundreds of dollars of personal funds to pay for instructional supplies.

1 comment (Add your own)

1. Keith Rohlmeier wrote:
I do not support any new funding for education in this state until the Teachers Union and the entire education department is restructured. We have way to many superintendents for our schools who draw a lot of money from the system. Education seems to be a bottomless pit when it comes to funding even after all the proposals passed by taxpayers over the years that were supposed to fix it once and for all (does the lottery ring any bells). Until the teachers unions and the education department fix themselves or is forced to by the voters or a responsible state government I will not give them any more of my tax dollars.

Fri, May 22, 2009 @ 12:43 PM

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