SQ 779 Draws Attention To Oklahoma Teacher Raises

Whatever your view on State Question 779, a measure on the November ballot that would provide much needed raises for teachers and other funding for education, it has generated discussion and counter suggestions on the state and local level.

The latest proposal thrown into the mix Tuesday by some Oklahoma legislators, according to the media, is to raise the state sales tax from 4.5 to 4.9 percent while expanding the tax to cover more services and goods. The money generated supposedly would be used to give the state’s teachers, based on seniority, raises of $5,000 (one to five years service), $7,500 (six to 10 years service) and $10,000 (11 years or more experience). SQ 779, which would generate $615 million annually, would give $5,000 raises to all teachers and provide other funding for public schools, higher education and career tech. It would raise the state sales tax from 4.5 to 5.5 percent.

I will state the obvious: The new teacher-raise proposal, which would also be a ballot question for voters in November, would have never happened, except for SQ 779. Of course, and here’s the catch, legislators actually have to vote in favor of teacher raises. Is it even real?

The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) opposes the proposal in its present form because it apparently caps typical job benefits, such as health insurance, as well. OEA calls it “a smoke and mirrors kind of bill." I fully agree with the description because of the benefits issue raised by OEA and other reasons.

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Sally Goes Out Slinging Hate

It will be said and remembered about Sally Kern that she went out swinging with punches of hate to the very end of her legislative career. It’s obviously what she wanted. She knew she could get everyone’s attention at least one more time.

The controversial Oklahoma Republican state representative gave a goodbye, hate-filled speech to her legislative colleagues last week, and she didn’t even begin to apologize for how much she has embarrassed Oklahoma throughout the world with her vitriolic rhetoric aimed at gay people and minorities. She’s leaving the state Capitol because she’s term limited this year, not because of the damage she leaves behind.

It seems weird and discombobulating to realize that we’ve been dealing with Kern’s fundamentalist thinking and mean-spirited rhetoric since she took office in 2005. What’s weirder to consider as open-minded and inclusive Oklahomans is that she was elected to office by people who think like she does. Bible-thumping, right-wing, hate-filled arguments and rhetoric are not unique to Oklahoma, of course, but Kern took it to a new level, and her conservative constituents and colleagues mostly supported her.

Actually, I wouldn’t even write about Kern because it’s tiresome and, frankly, it creeps me out a bit at this point that I expended so much mental energy on her antics, but I need to do so at least one more time for the historical record. This blog has chronicled her career through ALL her years in office in a countless number of posts. Okie Funk was established the same year she was first elected. You might say Okie Funk and Sally Kern’s political career were a fated Oklahoma binary.

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Where Is The Budget?

At this point in the current Oklahoma legislative session, I think it’s reasonable to argue that our not-so-popular conservative state leaders are waiting until the last minute to fully address the $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year.

I think it’s also reasonable to argue that the Republicans in the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin are probably going to implement serious cuts to state agencies, and they want to wait until the last minute so there’s less time for people and various stakeholders to organize protests or explain fully how the cuts could be devastating to ordinary Oklahomans before they go into effect. The session is scheduled to adjourn by May 27, only two working weeks away. Legislative leaders in the past have adjourned sessions several days before the adjournment date, and that could happen this time as well.

Conservatives, then, could create the carnage, and then go home and let everyone suffer through the mess they created by approving income tax cuts in recent years that primarily benefited the wealthy and by giving major tax breaks to the oil and gas industry.

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