Advocates of State Question 744 press for dramatic boost in per pupil funding
By Patrick B. McGuigan
NOTE: This is tenth in a continuing series of stories about the 11 statewide ballot questions on the November 2 ballot in the state of Oklahoma. State Question 744 is the only citizen initiative petition to make this year’s ballot. The other 10 measures are all referred measures, placed on the ballot as a result of legislative action. Pat McGuigan is the author of “The Politics of Direct Democracy:
Case Studies in Popular Decision Making.” He was a featured speaker at
this year’s Global Forum on Direct Democracy.
Oklahoma’s State Question 744 originated as Initiative Petition No. 391. The initiative proponents on the original petitions were listed as Charles Edward Pack, II, of Tahlequah, Richard D. George of Waynoka and Dr. Lisa B. Connery of Norman.
The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s largest labor union, was from the start the leading advocate of the measure, although other key supporters included the Oklahoma School Boards Association.
Initiative petitions were circulated beginning in August 2008, with a total of roughly 234,446 signatures submitted in October 2008. The measure easily qualified for the ballot, as 138,970 valid names were required to assure ballot status.
The initiative would, according to literature sent to CapitolBeatOK by advocates, “guarantee that the average amount spent for each student in Oklahoma is at least equal to the average spent in other state states in our region.
“Yes on 744” materials say the initiative is designed to assure that education is made “a priority by investing in teachers and schools.” Advocates believe that increased government spending on education will lead to higher standardized test scores.
When initiative petitions were in the field, Oklahoma’s per pupil expenditures were placed at $6,900, with a regional average of $8,300. When the “Yes on 744” campaign began to send information to state reporters in May, the state spending was pegged at $8,006, compared to a regional average of $9,633.
The ballot title for S.Q. 744 reads as follows:
“The measure repeals a Section of the State Constitution. The repealed section required the Legislature annually to spend $42.00 for each common school student. Common schools offer pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.
“The measure also adds a new Article to the Constitution. It sets a minimum average amount the State must annually spend on common schools. It requires the State to spend annually, no less than the average amount spent on each student by the surrounding states. Those surrounding states are Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado and New Mexico. When the average amount spent by surrounding states declines, Oklahoma must spend the amount it spent the year before.
“The measure deals with money spend on day-to-day operations of the schools and school districts. This includes spending on instructions, support services and non-instruction services. The measure does not deal with money spent to pay debt, on buildings or on other capital needs.
“The measure requires that increasing spending begin in the first fiscal year after its passage. It requires that the surrounding state average be met in the third fiscal year after passage.
“The measure does not raise taxes, nor does it provide new funding for the new spending requirements.”