By a 2-to-1 Ratio, Okla. Voters Reject Proposal To Revamp School Funding

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Educators in Oklahoma breathed a sigh of relief last week after voters soundly defeated a ballot proposal that would have changed local school funding significantly.

Though many observers had predicted a close vote, State Question 669, which appeared on the March 12 ballot, lost in all 77 counties. With heavy voter turnout for the Super Tuesday presidential primary, the measure was defeated statewide by a ratio of 2-to-1: 463,064 voted no and 226,860 said yes, according to complete but unofficial results from the state election board.

The proposal would have rolled back local property-tax rates to 1993 levels and limited to 3 percent any increase in those taxes that could be approved by local voters. In addition, a countywide tax increase would have required the approval of at least 60 percent of the qualified electors. (See Education Week, March 6, 1996.)

Supporters had seen the measure as a way for Oklahomans to seize control of their tax rates, shifting power from politicians and bureaucrats to the people.

Financial Fears

The state's Republican Party endorsed the measure, but GOP Gov. Frank Keating did not take a public stand on the issue.

The proposal frightened educators who saw the potential drain on local funding as similar to the hard financial times California schools have endured in the wake of Proposition 13, the bellwether 1978 measure that limited property taxes there.

Oklahoma's public schools depend on local property taxes for about 20 percent of their budgets.

The funding squeeze would have hit the state's 53 vocational-technical centers especially hard. They rely on local money for about 65 percent of their funding.

A broad coalition of 110 groups--including the Oklahoma Education Association and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association--worked for months and spent about $800,000 to defeat the measure.

Sandy Garrett, the elected state superintendent of public instruction, hailed last week's vote.

"I think this is a real signal, saying, 'Yes, we do want strong public education and we do want certain services such as libraries and fire departments,"' she said. "I believe Oklahoma people in general said we want a bright future for generations to come."

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