OKLAHOMA CITY — Backers of a proposed state question designed to benefit education decried on Friday a legal challenge to the measure.
OCPA Impact, the lobbying arm of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, on Thursday filed a legal challenge to the ballot title and gist of State Question 779.
Supporters earlier this year gathered 301,512 signatures, well above the 123,725 names required to get the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.
If approved by voters, it would increase the sales tax by 1 cent to provide a $5,000 teacher pay raise and fund additional programs in common education, higher education and CareerTech.
Amber England is executive director for Stand for Children Oklahoma, which supports the measure.
She said at a Capitol press conference Friday that the legal challenge was filed by an “anti-public education organization” as a delay tactic. She said supporters of the measure will file a legal response by July 1.
“It is time to let the people vote,” England said.
Supporters wore red shirts reading “Yes for 779.”
Anna King, an Oklahoma City parent, called the proposal a comprehensive solution to low teacher pay and funding woes in common education.
She said she was tired of OCPA fighting public education.
“You know, this group has fought against public education every step of the way,” King said. “We’ve had enough. It’s time to let the people vote to invest more in our schools and our teachers. Obstructing direct democracy, especially at such a critical time for our schools, is shameful.”
The measure previously withstood a legal challenge lodged by OCPA Impact alleging it contained more than one subject in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.
“For years, I’ve listened to this OCPA group espouse ways to dismantle our public schools, saying there is no such thing as a teacher shortage and they’ve referred to us as the ‘education blob,’” said Tulsa Public Schools teacher Shawna Mott Wright.
“To have them now profess they believe teachers need a pay raise, but only in another manner is so disingenuous. They couldn’t care less about seeing schools funded.”
She talked about a fellow teacher with much less experience than her who left Oklahoma for significantly more pay in Texas.
University of Oklahoma President David Boren led efforts to garner the signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
The measure is expected to generate about $615 million a year for education. It contains no sunset provision for the sales-tax increase. It would require a vote of the people to reverse it once it took effect.
Proponents say it is needed because lawmakers have failed to adequately fund education. Critics say it would make the state’s sales tax the highest in the nation.
Lawmakers this past session were unable to deliver a teacher pay raise supported by Gov. Mary Fallin.