The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — A coalition of business and labor groups said Thursday it will work to defeat a ballot initiative to dramatically increase spending on public education that coalition members said would devastate the budgets of many other state services and possibly force tax increases.
Members of the One Oklahoma Coalition, comprised of chambers of commerce, the union representing state workers and other groups, said they support public education but that the Helping Oklahoma Public Education initiative petition would force the state to spend more on public schools while cutting funding for other state agencies.
“We know that we need a well-educated work force,” said Fred Morgan, president and CEO of The State Chamber of Oklahoma. But 41 percent of the state’s budget is already dedicated to elementary and secondary public education, and spending more would erode funding for colleges and universities, vocational-technical schools and other services, he said.
“This is the wrong way to do this,” Morgan said. “We think working together is the best way to improve Oklahoma.”
Supporters of the HOPE petition, also known as State Question 744, said Oklahoma’s public schools are seriously underfunded and that the state ranks 46th out of the 50 states in per-pupil spending on public education.
Information provided by the Yes on 744 coalition indicates per-pupil spending in the 2008-09 school year totaled $8,006 in Oklahoma, lower than surrounding states including Texas, which spent $9,036 per student, New Mexico at $10,009 per student and Arkansas at $10,345.
The HOPE petition would force the state to spend at least $850 million more on public schools over a three-year period to meet the seven-state regional average for per-student spending. The regional average in the previous school year was $9,633, and the national average was $10,193, according to the Yes on 744 coalition.
“Oklahoma invests less in its children’s education than any other state in the region,” Dr. Lisa Connery, a Norman physician, business owner and public school parent, said in a statement released by Yes on 744.
“If we expect our students to excel and be competitive in the new economy, we need to provide them the educational foundation to do so,” Connery said.
But Sterling Zearley, executive director of the 10,000-member Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the petition’s passage in November could force budget cuts of up to 20 percent at many state agencies, cuts that he said would devastate services.
“It would undoubtedly lead to cuts in health care and mental health services,” Zearley said.
The cuts could mean the loss of $395 million to the Department of Transportation and the elimination of 253 jobs at the Department of Public Safety, Zearley said.
The president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Mike Spradley, said the HOPE initiative “would be very devastating to rural Oklahoma.”
“We can’t afford to pass a ballot issue that has the potential to dramatically raise property taxes to a level that makes it impossible to keep family farms profitable,” Spradley said.
Jeff Wilson, the anti-744 coalition’s campaign manager, said the initiative requires an increase in funding without creating a funding source.
“There’s simply no way to pay for this program,” Wilson said.
The Associated Press
- State News
Gov. Nixon declares state of emergency in Missouri
Gov. Jay Nixon today declared a state of emergency in Missouri in response to severe winter weather that began early this morning, bringing hazardous travel and the possibility of power outages.
Publicist: Andy Williams dies
According to a publicist, Emmy-winning TV host and 'Moon River' crooner Andy Williams has died.
Lions climb into share of MIAA men's basketball lead
Without taking the floor, Missouri Southern has climbed into a first-place tie in the MIAA men’s basketball race.
2.6 magnitude earthquake recorded in Oklahoma
The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded a 2.6 magnitude earthquake near Wellston in central Oklahoma.
No injuries or damage is reported.
Audit: $108,000 taken from Missouri Veterans Commission
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A former employee of the state auditor’s office embezzled nearly $108,000 while working as an accountant for the Missouri Veterans Commission, the state auditor alleged Monday.
Stacy Griffin-Lowery was fired by the Veterans Commission in March 2008 and pleaded guilty three months later to a misdemeanor theft charge. She repaid the state $17,665, the auditor’s office said.
But Missouri Auditor Susan Montee on Monday accused Griffin-Lowery of swiping an additional $90,192 by getting reimbursed for cash advances and purchases made on her personal credit card.
Race in Kansas’ 2nd District could heat up for GOP incumbent
TOPEKA, Kan. — A conservative Kansas legislator said Monday he will announce in a few weeks whether he will challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the Republican primary.
State Sen. Dennis Pyle’s actions in recent months suggest the Hiawatha farmer, who’s served in the Legislature since 2001, is running against Jenkins in the Aug. 2 primary. He set up a campaign organization in November and has a Web site featuring a brief video of him on his farm, asking viewers for support.
Oklahoma tea party leaders, lawmakers envision militia
OKLAHOMA CITY — Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.
Tea party movement leaders say they’ve discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force
- Missouri: Senate panel cuts $500 million from proposed budget JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Senate committee declared Thursday that it has sliced more than $500 million from Missouri’s proposed budget for next year — meeting a target set by Gov. Jay Nixon to bring it in balance.
- Kansas: Wichita-area casino in doubt after governor’s decision TOPEKA, Kan. — A proposed casino south of Wichita was in doubt Thursday after Gov. Mark Parkinson refused to grant its developers a regulatory reprieve. Partners in the $225 million Chisholm Creek project wanted to delay a state board’s decision on their plans.
- Oklahoma: Groups oppose education spending initiative OKLAHOMA CITY — A coalition of business and labor groups said Thursday it will work to defeat a ballot initiative to dramatically increase spending on public education that coalition members said would devastate the budgets of many other state services and possibly force tax increases.
- More State News Headlines
- Gov. Nixon declares state of emergency in Missouri