Oklahoma Legislature Rejects Governor's School-Tax Plan

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Oklahoma lawmakers have overwhelmingly rejected Gov. Henry Bellmon's call for fundamental changes in the way the state finances its public schools, deciding instead to give a 31-member citizens' committee two months to come up with a new plan.

Lawmakers, who concluded a three-week special session on education Aug. 23, agreed to return Nov. 6 to consider recommendations from the Task Force 2000, a panel authorized last session to study long-range education reforms.

Governor Bellmon's proposal, which received only one vote in the House, would have virtually eliminated school districts' reliance on property taxes as a source of revenue.

Mr. Bellmon, a Republican, had called for a 1.9 percent "school tax'' on goods and services to replace districts' property-tax revenues.

Representative William A. Veitch, the Republican who sponsored the Governor's proposal, cast the sole vote in favor of the measure.

After Senate members made clear they would not support a tax increase without school reforms, legislative leaders decided to ask the Task Force 2000 to develop a revenue and reform package, said Representative Carolyn Thompson, chairman of the House education committee.

The House Speaker, President pro tem of the Senate, and Governor last week each named nine people to the panel. George Singer, a Tulsa oilman and member of the task force, was named chairman. The secretary of education, state superintendent, chan8cellor of higher education, and director of vocational-technical education also will serve on the panel.

Ms. Thompson said the upcoming special session presents "a golden opportunity" for lawmakers to resolve Oklahoma districts' long-running funding woes.

The state, which once ranked near the national average in terms of teacher salaries and per-pupil spending, has fallen to 48th in wages and 46th in expenditures following the collapse of its oil industry in the early 1980's.

The Oklahoma Education Association had promised to stage a statewide strike this fall if lawmakers failed to raise state school aid. According to Kyle Dahlem, the union's president, the threat has been "placed on hold."

"The fact that we have a special session devoted to education makes me optimistic about the outcome," she said. --nm

Vol. 09, Issue 01

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