Column by Jennifer Monies, Executive Director of Oklahoma Achieves, published in the Journal Record on August 10, 2018
After a decade of teacher salary stagnation, Oklahoma lawmakers passed legislation last session giving teachers a deserved raise. Although we’ve made great strides and now rank second in the region in teacher pay, communities are still frustrated. They lack control at the local level to decide how their tax dollars are spent and they need more options and flexibility to do what makes sense for their districts.
This November, voters will have the opportunity to further strengthen our education system and allow local communities more control. If passed, State Question 801 would give local school districts greater flexibility to use existing property tax revenue for operational needs and expenses, including teacher pay and textbooks. Currently, a portion of local funds is confined to a separate building fund, which restricts usage to a narrow list of expenses. This is problematic for school districts with adequate facilities that would prefer to spend their local dollars in classrooms.
A measure intended to bring flexibility back to school funding, SQ 801 is not meant to be a cure-all. Neither is SQ 801 a mandate – if a district wants to keep some of its local dollars separated in its building fund, it will be able to continue to do so. But, we believe some Oklahoma districts and local communities would benefit from less government regulation and more local control, giving them the flexibility to spend their local dollars in the best way to help students, potentially including additional pay for teachers and more money in the classroom.
Moreover, a recent release of our student academic performance shows much improvement is needed to prepare our kids for the future workforce. We are moving in the right direction, but more money in the classroom could go toward early intervention programs to make sure our students don’t fall further behind.
The benefits are clear: SQ 801 will give local communities more say in how their local dollars are spent at their schools. Educators frequently complain about unfunded mandates and in recent years have asked for flexibility in spending when budget cuts were required. SQ 801 takes an arbitrary, government-imposed restriction on funds and gives local school boards and superintendents the ability to decide how best to use their funds. A yes vote on SQ 801 means more options for more money in the classroom. Oklahoma has made great strides to improve education funding in our state this year. Let’s continue the momentum.