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.