The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma could soon allow its school districts to spend locked ad valorem revenue on teacher pay, but the measures drew criticism from some members who are former educators and from education supporters.
Oklahoma’s constitution places several restrictions on school districts’ use of ad valorem revenue. A portion of it has to go to a building fund. It places a 5-mill cap on the districts’ levying ability for that revenue stream. It also allows them to use that money only for buildings and other infrastructure needs.
State Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, introduced two measures that would make that money available for operational expenses, including teacher pay. Districts would be allowed to spend that money as they see fit, which could include increasing salaries to entice better teachers or to refill positions that have remained empty. She said the measures restore more local control and allow officials to be more resourceful in handling their financial problems.
“This really gives our districts an opportunity to do something different, to change the way we’ve done things,” she said.
A few former educators from each party argued against the bill, saying that it would harm poorer schools and that it seems to shift blame away from lawmakers. A school board advocate said that because the total amount of money available wouldn’t change, the measures would not be helpful.
State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, is a former teacher. He said these measures illustrate the Legislature’s lack of understanding of the state’s funding formula for schools. Schools use this money for vital infrastructure, and they can’t afford to shuffle it.
“This makes us look bad,” he said.
He said this would benefit schools with more ad valorem revenue over those that have less. Those schools in higher-income areas could divert that money to salaries in a way that those in low-income areas couldn’t, which could drain talent from struggling schools.
“This would be a disaster for the state of Oklahoma,” he said.
State Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, is another former teacher. He said the responsibility to fund schools falls on lawmakers, and this would solve no problems but open districts up to more criticism.
“It seems to be shifting the responsibility of 23rd and Lincoln back on communities,” he said.
Shawn Hime is the executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. He said these measures would have no effect on schools. Most districts don’t have enough money in their building fund to pay for what is already approved: air conditioning units, custodian and maintenance worker pay, building improvements and other costs.
“The fact of the matter is schools already have more costs that they can spend their building fund on,” he said. “Most of our schools (already) have to work really hard to save up building fund money.”