Gov. Kevin Stitt said his administration is looking into letting communities vote for higher property taxes to better fund schools without having the increase offset by the state’s funding formula.
Speaking Tuesday during his first Tulsa Regional Chamber State of the State forum, Stitt initially described the research as an attempt to “tweak, … or to blow up and redo,” the funding options to improve education.
Although Stitt later said “blow up” probably wasn’t the best way to describe the potential changes, he said he wants his team to take the opportunity to go big.
One of those options is allowing communities to raise property taxes to provide more money for a school district without the money counting against the state’s equalization formula for school funding.
“I think we need to look at how we fund and how we unlock the potential in local communities that want to pay their teachers more, that want to do more and want to invest in their school system,” Stitt said. “Right now, they can’t do that, so I want to think through that.
“We’re not in an isolated box; we have 49 other states that show us how they fund their education system. We’ve got to think outside the box for what’s going to be happening 10 years from now.”
Stitt mentioned the funding formula while answering a question from Don Millican, chief financial officer of Kaiser Francis Oil Co. Millican conducted a question-and-answer session with the governor after Stitt’s speech to the group.
With more consumers switching to online shopping instead of local businesses, as well as other factors, Stitt said sole reliance on sales tax revenue is “a bad playbook.” Stitt said he would rather see counties and cities determine how to fund themselves through a mix of sales and property taxes.
Millican then asked how such an approach would play out in common education. The present funding formula determines state aid based on property taxes, and in the event a city or county voted to raise those taxes to better fund its schools, state aid would decrease.
Stitt said his team is researching how to address that formula, including a change that would let communities raise their contribution in property taxes without being penalized by equalization.
Using Jenks as an example, he said he wants to let communities raise more for schools, then use the state’s school grading system to measure progress.
“We’re looking at: How do we unlock competition to allow Jenks to do more?” Stitt said. “Furthermore, we want to grade schools to make sure the parents know where their schools are going. …
“But that whole funding formula needs to be looked at, not only for common ed but also career techs and higher ed, kind of mashing those walls together and have somebody overseeing the big picture.”
In Stitt’s address, he discussed the Criminal Justice Reentry, Supervision, Treatment and Opportunity Reform — or RESTORE — Task Force, which has examined issues throughout the criminal justice system — including parole, sentencing and offender classification. He said the task force — which has been meeting behind closed doors — would begin holding open meetings in September.
“Currently, this task force is meeting as six smaller groups,” Stitt said. “They’ve taken the research meetings into communities across the state, visiting with Oklahomans who are part of our criminal justice system or who have been affected by it.”
The “unprecedented deep dive into the criminal justice system” seeks to better classify violent and nonviolent offenders, Stitt said.
It’s part of an effort to examine why Oklahomans are imprisoned 79% longer for drug crimes and 70% longer for property crimes than the national average, Stitt said.