Okla. Voters Back $2-Billion School-Reform, Revenue Bill

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On a close vote and record-heavy turnout that reflected their strong feelings about both education reform and taxes, Oklahomans chose last week to keep a five-year, $2-billion school-improvement and revenue bill passed last year by the legislature.

Nearly 800,000 voters went to the polls, a record number for a single-issue special election in the state. On the ballot was an initiative calling for repeal of the controversial reform law, known as House Bill 1017.

Complete but unofficial returns showed 361,293 votes, or 46 percent of the total, for the repeal referendum, while 428,204 votes, or 54 percent, favored retaining the reform law.

For supporters of HB 1017, who termed the narrow vote a "significant victory," the results brought a sense of relief and appreciation for the public's backing of education reform.

"We fought a very long and hard campaign, and it is very gratifying to know we fought it right," said Terry Almon, founder and executive director of Growth Oklahoma, or Go, a coalition of education and business groups that spearheaded the anti-repeal effort and raised more than $1 million.

"1 think it's a strong statement from Oklahoma to this nation that we're ready to accept our part of the ! obligation to prepare children for the 21st century," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett, who campaigned to keep HB 1017. "I couldn't be more pleased," Ms. Garrett said.

But Stanley M. Ward, chairman of a group called Stop New Taxes and a leader of the repeal effort, called the close vote a "moral victory." By spending just $40,000, he said, "We were able to garner 46 percent of the vote."

Both Mr. Ward and Dan Brown, president of the Oklahoma Taxpayers Union, which also backed repeal of HB 1017, vowed to continue their efforts for a proposed constitutional amendment that would require any future tax increases to receive approval from three-quarters of the legislature or a simple majority of a popular vote.

Fierce Grassroots Campaigning

Bitter debate and fierce grassroots campaigning had marked the fight between supporters of HB 1017, who hailed the law as "true reform,'' and its opponents, who railed against the bill's accompanying tax increases and led the petition drive for last week's referendum. (See Education Week, Oct. 9, 1991.)

HB 1017, which spawned passionate debate even before its passage in April 1990, mandated reduced class sizes, new accreditation standards, a new statewide core curriculum, mandatory half-day kindergarten, and higher teacher salaries.

To pay for those reforms, the measure also raised the sales tax one-half cent, increased the corporateincome-tax rate from 5 percent to 6 percent, and enlarged personal-income taxes by amounts ranging from 1 percent to 16 percent, depending on income level.

Supporters of HB 1017 warned before the vote that repeal would create chaos in state schools, eliminating 2,300 teaching jobs and cutting $178 million in K-12 funding this year alone.

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Page 19

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