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

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:

  • 86.33 percent of the funds allocated to common education — which is equal to 60 percent of the total amount — shall go to pay each teacher “at a rate that is at least $5,000 greater than the salary schedule transmitted by such district in the most recent year prior to the adoption” of SQ 779 and “to otherwise address and prevent teacher and certified instructional staff shortages in the manner most suited to local district circumstances and needs, including but not limited to differentiated compensation methods or performance pay.” 
  • 13.67 percent of the amount allocated to common education — or 9.5 percent of the total amount — can be used by districts for other programs and initiatives to improve educational outcomes.

The claim that less than half the money will go to teacher pay flies in the face of the language of SQ 779. Opponents have argued that “this new tax would bring in $615 million in new tax money each year, yet a $5,000 raise only costs $245 million.” This ignores two things. First, to pay for a $5,000 raise, school districts must also pay higher employer-related costs, including FICA benefits (Social Security and Medicare) and pension plan contributions. This is expected to result in about $858 in employer-related costs and raises the total cost of the $5,000 raise to about $300 million, according to information prepared by the Oklahoma State School Board Association. Secondly, SQ 779 expressly sets out that the remainder of the money under Section 3.A.1 (b) must also go to pay teachers. This could take the form of a salary increase greater than $5,000 or other efforts to address the teacher shortage, including differential compensation methods or performance pay. The language of the ballot measure could be seen also to allow districts to hire additional teachers, but the money would still be going to teacher pay.

In addition, the ballot measure specifies that none of the money can be used to add superintendents or increase superintendent salaries. The State Auditor and Inspector will be required to conduct an annual audit to ensure that all monies distributed to school districts from the one-cent sale tax are used for their designated purposes.

Opponents are also claiming that the teacher pay raise will be “one-time,” which could lead people to believe that teachers will receive the raise for only one year. In reality, this will be a permanent raise in base salary of at least $5,000.

We can have a fair debate about whether SQ 779 raises and allocates the money appropriately. But this debate needs to be based on the facts of what the measures actually proposes, not on misinformation.

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Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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

  1. where does the other 30.5 percent of the money go? How can anyone be assured with OUR legislatures that the money won’t go into a general fund and be held back from schools and disbursed to OTHERS as is the usual case in Oklahoma.

  2. The revenues are divided as follows:
    -60 percent for teacher pay increases
    -Another 9.5 percent for K-12 public schools that can be used for several programs but cannot got to superintendent pay
    -19.25 percent to higher education
    -3.25 percent to CareerTech
    -8 percent to early childhood education

    None of the money will go into a General Fund. The ballot initiative creates a new fund that can only be used for the purposes listed in the initiative, and it includes protections against the Legislature using revenues from the new tax to supplant existing funding. You can see more details about how this all works in this fact sheet: https://okpolicy.org/state-question-779-sales-tax-education/

  3. “13.67 percent of the amount allocated to common education…” You forgot to add that this 13.67% may not be used to maintain programs, opportunities or reforms established prior to the effective date of this Article. In other words the people helping fund this initiative are lined up with “new programs” and this is their payoff.

  4. Why does it have to be an addition to the state constitution? Why not more to CareerTechs than higher ed? Where’s all the funding from the lottery? This tax hurts those who can’t afford it the most for every dollar they make.

  5. Michael, you’ve misunderstood the language regarding the other 13 percent (which is admittedly rather confusing). It’s saying that the money must go to expand programs, not simply to maintain them. So if, for example, a district is now spending $2 million to improve early reading skills, it could spent that portion of funds to increase the program by, say, $200,000. The language is intended to avoid the new money being used to supplant current funds.

  6. Two things: 1. In Basic Probability studies, there is the conditional statement which is this situation. To calculate the percentage going towards pay raises would actually be .6*.8633=.51798 which is darn near close to half of the overall funds. 2. I am wondering if this isn’t a “double-jeapordy” taxation set-up. Would the $5,000 pay raise be tax-exemptible? If not, say $1,000 of that (rough tax rate estimate) goes back to the state and federal through personal income tax dues, would this not be taxing us to merely be raising more taxes? 1000*40,000=$40,000,000 more raised in taxes each year. Where is this money going?

  7. What happens if there is a dip in sales tax revenue ? Is there a guarantee that the teachers will still get the 5,000, if not enough money is collected? Is there special protection against teacher layoffs ?

  8. Matthew, a total of 69.5 percent of the revenues will go to K-12 education. The amount going to teacher pay is 60 percent of the total revenue and 86.33 percent of the amount going to K-12 education (.6/.695=.8633). Multiplying 60 percent by 86.33 does not give us a meaningful number, because 60 percent is already the amount going to teacher pay out of the overall funds.

  9. I would vote for this IF higher education wasn’t getting the most after teacher raises. Colleges charge tuition; public schools do not. I can’t justify why colleges need more than our public schools. I feel like these should have been individual questions because I do feel teachers need raises but because it’s lumped together with higher education I will vote no.

  10. I feel like there is an uncertainty on how the funds will be appropriated. Some state that the money will not go through the “formula” and every school will benefit while on the other hand it states that the monies will be appropriated through the formula… Could this eventually be harmful to non-formula school districts, especially while oil & gas production is down? I do understand that all schools will receive monies for early childhood, but will all receive assistance in raising the district pay schedule. The OSSBA states on their website:
    “Will every school district receive sales tax revenue?
    The consensus opinion of OSSBA and other education attorneys is yes. Every school district – even those not on the formula – will receive sales tax revenue”.
    1. Common Education: Sixty-nine and one-half percent (69.5%) of said monies shall be apportioned among and between all the several common school districts of the State in proportion to the school population of the
    several districts, on the basis of the state aid formula for common education then in effect.(a) Monies from the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund shall be specifically identified and segregated from other monies appropriated and apportioned among the several common school districts of the State on the basis of said state aid formula.

  11. I would vote yes if we hadn’t been told years ago “Vote Yes for Lottery” “It will go to education”. Sorry we are taxed enough and I for one am tired of bailing out our State officials with a penny here and a penny there! Voting NO!

  12. This is a permanent sales tax. The way it was explained to me. If folks stop shopping in OK because it’s costing their family too much, then $5000 raises has to come out of each schools budget.

  13. State Q 779 will never pas because of the cities and towns in Oklhoma realize that another penny on the sales tax ( 8.25 + 1.00= 9.25%) on every dollar will be a big tax burden on the poor in these cities and the state. The poor cannot afford it because those on Social Security didn’t get a cost of living raise this year. Which means they have less to spend, and should not have to decide wether they are going to eat and get their prescriptions every month because the teachers want a raise. The Governor and Legislature should have thought about it when they passed all these law that were not constitutions and fought them all the way to the Supreme Court to only have it struck down, and waste all that money that could have gone to teachers. Everyone should vote no, I was around when horse racing and liquor by the drink and the lottery were going to fund education. That didn’t happen and neither will this law. #VOTENOSQ779

  14. Im not voting for this because sales tax is not the right way to raise the funds. I agree that teachers need a raise. Also if you do the math another way, the annual budget for education is going from about $2.426billion to $3billion. That’s an estimated increase equal to about 25.3%. if 60% of that went to pay. Then teachers should be getting .60*25.3% or a 15.18% pay raise? The real problem is that not all the money is going to K-12 teachers. That skimming off the top for “programs” and others is what I don’t want to fund. I vote for income tax cut reform to fund it but not a sales tax increase.

  15. What will prevent the legislature from reducing state support for education by an equivalent amount or some portion thereof?

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