OKLAHOMA CITY - A group calling themselves “Oklahoma’s Children, Our Future” took the first step Wednesday in an initiative to raise $615 million for education through a penny sales tax increase. OU President David Boren is taking the lead on the effort

“Let the people vote, that’s our message today,” said an impassioned David Boren at a kickoff event before members of the group filed paperwork to the Secretary of State.

If the initiative is approved and the group is able to gather the necessary 123,000 signatures, the measure would be put to voters on next November’s ballot, the same ballot as the 2016 Presidential election. There will be a lot of voters but Boren says he believes Oklahomans will get behind him.

“I owe it to Oklahoma,” said the former United States Senator, Oklahoma Governor and now president of O.U. Boren putting his name and political capital behind the project, that he says is a bi-partisan effort to deal with a crisis of historic proportions: a teacher shortage due to lack of education funding.

“Oklahoma is such a great state, yet we’re 49th, probably soon to be 51st, in what we’re spending on our children,” said Boren.

A majority of the money raised would go toward a $5,000 raise for teachers.  Boren says 35,000 Oklahoma children are currently in classrooms without certified teachers.

“It breaks my heart to see so many of my fellow Oklahoma teachers leaving Oklahoma in droves to teach in other states or making the decision to leave the classroom all together,” said Shawn Sheehan, this year’s Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.

Funding will also go to higher education, early childhood programs and CareerTech.

Boren and his group however, will be battling those opposed to a tax increase. But he argues Oklahoma already has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country and nothing is ever free.

“We must raise $6 or $7 hundred million for education in Oklahoma or we’re going to fall through the cellar, we’re going to be 51st and that’s not Oklahoma and that’s not the state we’re so proud to be from.”

Once the ballot initiative is approved, the group has 90 days to collect the necessary signatures.

Boren says all of the money would go to the classroom, not administration and could not be substituted for funding education is already receiving.