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The politics of revenue raising matters for health care and teachers (Capitol Update)

by | February 24th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

There are couple of big issues starting their trek through the legislative process, and the way they ultimately get handled will affect the state’s long-range structural challenges. The first challenge concerns raising the cigarette tax and dedicating the proceeds to health care agencies. In the last several years, legislative and executive leaders have blamed the general revenue shortfall on too many revenue sources being taken “off the top” for some specific purpose, thus never reaching the general revenue fund.

The current cigarette tax proposal increases the tax by $1.50 per pack and specifically directs where the money must be spent. This is the same as taking it off the top. The only difference is the revenue goes to the general revenue fund, but it is required by law to be spent for a specific purpose. This limits the flexibility of future legislatures to appropriate the money where it may be more urgently needed without changing the law.

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Statement: With failure of SQ 779, lawmakers must take responsibility for restoring school funding

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on the failure of SQ 779, the sales tax increase for education:

SQ 779 did not reach majority support even though Oklahomans widely acknowledge that we must improve school funding. The results of this vote show that many believed that SQ 779 was the wrong solution to the right problem. Many voters were not willing to add to the sales tax — our state’s most regressive major tax, which takes the biggest share of income from low-income seniors and working families — after years of income tax cuts heavily slanted to benefit the wealthiest Oklahomans. Going forward, lawmakers must find a more balanced approach to restore school funding. The failure of SQ 779 does not take lawmakers off the hook, because our state’s children and economic future still depend on better funding of schools and teachers.

What cuts to alternative education mean for individual lives. Lives such as mine. (Guest Post: Teara Firor)

by | November 3rd, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (2)

Teara Firor is a Tulsa-born social worker and parent of three children in the  public school system.

We hear a lot about the cuts to public programs that have been made in recent years as a result of the state’s endless budget crisis. Often a lot of numbers get tossed around, but we can lose sight of what the programs that are being cut mean for individual lives. Lives such as mine.

I attended Broken Arrow Academy from 2001 until I graduated in 2004. The BA Academy is one of over 250 alternative education programs that operate in the state to serve at-risk students. Prior to being accepted there, I was on the fast track to dropping out of high school entirely. I attended four different schools my freshman year. When I was in school, I ate lunch alone in the bathroom because I found the school of over 1,000 students overwhelming, and after so many transfers it became difficult to make friends.

My first day at Broken Arrow Academy was my first good day of school in years. As time progressed, I developed relationships with my teachers and school counselor. Those relationships helped me see school as a safe place and helped me continue to attend when things got rough.

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Fact Check: The claim that less than half of SQ 779 revenues will go to teachers is false

by | November 1st, 2016 | Posted in Education, State Questions, Taxes | Comments (18)

A central claim being made by opponents of State Question 779, the ballot measure that would increase the sales tax by one percentage point to boost funding for education, is that less than half the money will go to raise teacher pay. This assertion is made repeatedly on the homepage and campaign ads of the group leading the No on 779 campaign and has been repeated by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and other organizations.

The assertion is false. SQ 779 clearly provides that of all revenue received by the new one-cent tax, a full 60 percent will go to teacher pay.

Here’s how it will work. Under the new language to be added to the state Constitution, 69.5 percent of all revenue from the one-cent sales tax will go to common education. How common education’s share will be allocated is spelled out in Article XIII, Section C.3.A.1  and Section C.4, as follows:

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When K-12 schools are underfunded… (Guest post: Elizabeth Smith)

by | October 31st, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

sad student

Elizabeth Smith is the planning director for the Yale National Initiative at the University of Tulsa, a partnership between TU, Tulsa Public Schools, and Yale University to strengthen teaching in Tulsa schools.  She recently completed a Ph.D. in Public Policy, P-20 Education Policy.

The latest school funding numbers have been released, and, sadly, Oklahoma is once again the winner!  After inflation, our state’s general funding for K-12 education is 27 percent less per pupil than before the beginning of the 2008 recession, a higher percentage than any other state in the country.  This amounts to $211 less per student per year in each school.  As a parent, I care about school funding because I want my kids to have art and music programs and teachers who are treated like professionals and have access to the best resources to use in their classrooms.  As a higher education professional for the last 12 years, though, why does adequate funding for K-12 education matter to my work?

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Oklahoma’s $1.3 billion school funding gap (Capitol Updates)

by | October 28th, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

There was more bad news this week that Oklahoma, for the third straight year, had the largest cuts in the United States in state aid funding for education. The per pupil state aid formula cuts were 26.9 percent after inflation between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2017, nearly twice as much as Alabama which was the next worst state. It’s hard to believe that publicity like this enhances our reputation as a good place to live and do business.

There are those who will argue that total support for public schools, including both local and state funding, is the relevant measure of support and that education is not faring so badly. A graph from the National Center for Education Statistics on the Oklahoma Education Coalition website rebuts such an argument. It demonstrates that in 2016 Oklahoma’s neighboring states invested substantially more in common education on a per-student basis. Oklahoma would have to invest nearly $1.3 billion more annually to reach the regional average per-student spending.

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However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down

by | October 20th, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

Oklahoma’s investment in preK-12 education has plummeted in recent years. The state continues to rank worst in the nation for cuts to general school funding, according to a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.

Oklahoma’s per pupil funding of the state aid formula for public schools has fallen 26.9 percent after inflation between FY 2008 and FY 2017. These continue to be the deepest cuts in the nation, and Oklahoma’s lead is growing. On a percentage basis, we’ve cut nearly twice as much as the next worst state, Alabama.

It’s the third straight year that this report has shown Oklahoma leading the nation in cuts to general school funding, but state lawmakers have still not made any meaningful efforts to reverse the cuts. The report finds that Oklahoma was one of 19 states that continued to cut state aid funding per pupil this year, even as the national economy recovers. Between FY 2016 and FY 2017, Oklahoma cut per pupil aid another 2.9 percent after inflation, the fourth deepest cut in the nation.

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Private school tax subsidy blurs the line between charitable gift and money laundering (Guest post: Carl Davis)

by | October 19th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

Carl Davis is Research Director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that works on federal, state, and local tax policy issues.

When is a charitable contribution not a “donation” at all?  If a taxpayer manages to turn a profit on the deal, has anything altruistic actually occurred?  The clear answer is no.  But a new report from my organization, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, reveals that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not always see it that way, at least with regard to certain state-subsidized “gifts” that Oklahomans are making to private K-12 scholarship funds.

Tax incentives for charitable giving are common in the United States.  More than 30 states, including Oklahoma, allow a write-off for charitable donations. For an Oklahoma taxpayer who claims itemized deductions, this state incentive can reduce the cost of giving by up to 5 percent.

One particular type of giving, however, enjoys a much more generous government subsidy.  In 2011, Oklahoma decided to supercharge its charitable donation incentive for contributions to private K-12 scholarship funds.  Donors who pledge to contribute for two consecutive years now receive a tax credit equal to 75 percent of the amount donated.  When combined with the state’s ordinary charitable deduction (a practice prohibited in most states with these types of credits, but allowed in Oklahoma), the end result is a program that reimburses donors for up to 80 percent of their contribution. That incentive is 16 times more generous than the 5 percent match the state offers on gifts to churches, food pantries, and other charities.

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Why Oklahoma teachers need a raise, in two charts

by | September 21st, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (8)

One of the most hotly debated State Questions that Oklahomans will decide this year is SQ 779. The measure would increase the sales tax to improve education funding — with most of the new funding dedicated to teacher raises. While opponents of the measure have criticized using a sales tax increase as the funding source, there is widespread, bipartisan agreement that Oklahoma teachers need a raise.

SQ 779 would require districts to provide a $5,000 raise for all Oklahoma teachers. It would also provide some additional funds that schools could use for performance pay or pay increases for the most highly demanded teacher positions. That $5,000 wouldn’t bring Oklahoma up to anywhere near the best states for teacher pay, but it would counteract the trend of falling pay since 2009.

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Mapped: The Oklahoma school districts with the most and least per pupil state aid

by | September 19th, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

It’s well known that state aid funding in Oklahoma has struggled in recent years — since 2008 we’ve cut per student state aid by 24.2 percent after inflation, the largest drop in the U.S. Cuts to state aid affect all school districts in the state, but not all districts are affected equally. Because state aid to local districts is based on a formula that takes into account the needs of students and the local resources of districts to fund themselves, the amount per student that’s funded by the state varies widely between districts. In the 2015-2016 school year, aid went from a low of $16 to a high of $7,740 per student.

You can see the per student state aid funding for each Oklahoma school district in the map below. Click here to open an interactive map as its own tab and click here to download the data in Excel. The map reveals a couple of trends — the highest levels of per-student state aid tend to be found in districts in southeast Oklahoma, while the lowest state aid tends in be in northwest Oklahoma districts outside of the panhandle.

[Note: The map does not include charter schools, which tend to receive higher state aid because they have no local revenues. Charter school state aid can be found in the full data set.]

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