It comes as no surprise that local corporations and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber led the fight against State Question 779, which would have increased the state sales tax by one cent and given public school teachers $5,000 annual raises.
— News On 6 (@NewsOn6) November 10, 2016
They were joined by some progressives, who considered the one cent sales tax hike regressive, and thus approximately 59 percent of voters defeated the measure in the Nov. 8 election. Our teachers were jilted once again.
What’s somewhat surprising, however, are some of the dollar amounts from the “no” side that have been reported. For example, according to a media report, Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores donated $40,000 to help defeat the measure. Many if not most people who work at Love’s stores in Oklahoma were most likely educated in the public school system in the state.
Other companies that donated thousands of dollars to Oklahoma Deserves Better, the group organized to oppose SQ 779, included the local oil and gas companies Continental Resources ($20,000) Chesapeake ($20,000), Devon ($20,000) and SandRidge ($10,000), which, again, obviously draw many of their employees from a pool of job candidates educated in Oklahoma’s public schools.
Clayton Bennett, the chairman of the group that owns the Oklahoma City Thunder, kicked in $20,000 as well.
I think it’s important to note as well that oil and gas companies, in particular, benefit from huge tax breaks that take money out of Oklahoma’s classrooms and keep teacher salaries low.
As Amber England, who headed up the group Stand for Oklahoma Children that supported the measure, put it in one media report, “It’s hard to stomach that many of these corporations and wealthy individuals have benefited the most from special interest tax giveaways while waging a campaign to deny our teachers — many of whom rely on food pantries to feed their families — a much deserved pay raise.”
SQ 779 would have also given some money it generated to the vocational education and higher education systems. Legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin cut funding to higher education by nearly 16 percent for this fiscal year.
There have been discussions and proposed plans about raising teacher salaries here to stem the flow of teachers moving to other states for better pay, but the state faces a budget shortfall approaching $900 million for next fiscal year. I recently wrote about that contradiction here.
As we all know, Oklahoma is ranked 49th in the nation in teacher pay, and it has cut education funding the most of any state on a percentage basis since 2008. Anyone who thinks this is a simple matter of economics or a downturn in the oil and gas industry is not paying attention. This is a deliberate attack on education, in general, teachers and school-age children, an attack which unfortunately continues to enjoy widespread support in Oklahoma.