Oklahoma voters will have a choice in a few weeks on two ballot measures that have serious implications for school districts and the students they serve. State Question 758 would lower the amount that assessed property values can be raised from the current 5% cap to 3%. State Question 766 removes taxes from intangible property.
Before I add my thoughts and some links to information about these state questions, examine this graph from the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
The graph and accompanying article show that common education funding has seen a decreasing share of the state budget. Peaking in fiscal year 2004 at 38% of overall allocations, common education received only 34 percent for fiscal year 2013. School districts are already short on cash flow due to legislative inaction. This is compounded by the SDE’s continued withholding of money that is supposed to flow through the formula.
These two state questions give voters the chance to make schools’ fiscal conditions even worse.
This list of talking points from CCOSA begins to explain the policy implications. As the state becomes a less reliable funding source, school districts that can pass bonds rely on that revenue for all sorts of things – buildings, buses, computers, and even textbooks. Yes, school districts have been using their textbook allocations to pay salaries and utility bills these last few years (which the legislature has specifically permitted) and deferred the cost of books to bonds. Again, to be clear, school districts are now so poorly funded that they borrow money in order to buy textbooks.
Oklahoma Policy Institute demonstrates in this article that SQ 758 will “create a widening gap between taxable and fair market values.” In this one, they show that SQ 766 could cost local governments up to $50 million a year in tax revenue. Most of that goes to school districts.
Opposing these state questions is not a matter of greedy school districts trying to take your land and intellectual property. It’s a matter of schools having adequate buildings and resources to educate your children. And if not your children, your neighbors’ children. This is about preserving the most visible investment that communities make.
Inform yourself. Visit the Oklahoma Secretary of State web page and learn everything you can about these state questions. And for the love of common sense, vote no and stop the hemorrhaging.