The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — An initiative petition that would raise $850 million for Oklahoma public schools is coming under fire from opponents who maintain it would force cuts to other state agencies and programs.
On July 31, educators including those in the Oklahoma Education Association launched an initiative petition drive to call for a statewide vote to amend the Constitution to require more funding for public schools.
State Question 744 would require the Legislature to finance schools at the regional average for per-pupil expenditures. Oklahoma’s current per-pupil funding is $6,900 a year, compared to the $8,300 regional average.
State House Republican lawmakers and other groups said it could result in major cuts in state agency budgets or major tax increases, could force school consolidation and would eliminate the Legislature’s flexibility on issues.
Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, said the voters elect legislators to set priorities and make decisions.
“That is probably the most basic civics lesson we teach in our schools in this state,” he said.
Mandating a percentage or specific dollar amount as the petition would do “strikes at the very heart of that lesson, that very basic civics lesson we teach all students,” he said.
Hickman said he has nothing against initiative petitions, but this one involves an appropriation of dollars and mandating an amount to one entity at the expense of others.
The State Chamber of Oklahoma, another opponent of the proposal, said the OEA petition would “handcuff the Legislature by removing its flexibility to develop a responsible budget,” strip the Legislature of its oversight of the state budget and cause cuts to vital services.
Members of Oklahomans for Responsible Government, which describes itself as a taxpayer advocacy group dedicated to promoting fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability, said they were “shocked to learn of the Oklahoma Education Association’s decision to take their funding debate to the people.”
The Associated Press
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