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Oklahoma Voters To Decide School Reform's Fate

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Oklahoma voters, who in June rejected a ballot proposal to further equalize school funding in the state, may get a chance this fall to decide the fate of a major school-reform and tax bill passed by the legislature in April.

The bill raised state sales and other taxes in order to provide $223 million for a wide range of school reforms.

The measure, which passed the legislature only after an intensive struggle and a statewide job action by teachers, has since become a focus of anti-tax sentiment in the state.

A group called Stop Taxing Our People claimed last month to have gathered enough signatures to place the question of repealing the law on the November ballot.

Stop has collected about 50,000 signatures more than the 93,000 needed under state law, its director said.

The state attorney general's office has so far declined to certify the petitions, citing procedural requirements. But stop organizers are pressing for quick action so the issue will have a better chance of appearing on the ballot.

The group also opposed the four ballot measures defeated by voters on June 25.

The most significant of the proposals would have amended the state constitution to require local school districts to give some tax revenues from certain properties, such as land owned by airlines and railroads, back to the state. The proposal would also have required that some local taxes on oil be allocated to the state instead of to the district.

The money would have gone into a Common School Fund, from which aid would then have been distributed to school districts according to the state funding formula.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Gerald E. Hoeltzel said the proposal "was not really that important." He suggested it failed because "we didn't really do as good a job as we should have in getting out the potential positive impact of these changes."

Although the proposal would have provided for more equity, he said, the larger reform measure already took steps towards equalizing school funding.

The three other questions rejected by the voters would have adjusted the funding mechanism for the school-land fund, changed the selection process for members of the state board of education, and given the legislature the power to set mandatory school-attendance ages.--mn

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