Oklahoma education. It's been a hot topic for months, especially with regards to the race for governor.
Republican Candidate Kevin Stitt's education plan calls for a teacher pay raise, a streamlining of regulation and no cuts to state funding. He is also pushing for a signing bonus for certified teachers who join Oklahoma education. He said those bonuses can be accomplished by partnering with local school districts to match "dollar-for-dollar" up to $5,000.
Stitt also estimates there is about a billion dollars in added revenue coming into Oklahoma this year. He said some money will be ear-marked for education, and he wants to use $30 million of it to pay for teacher raises.
Stitt’s campaign estimates the pay raise will move Oklahoma teachers to number one in the region in terms of salary.
Stitt also argues that existing money should be more accessible, and that he wants to simplify Oklahoma's funding formula.
“We have some ideas to break down silos between capital improvement buckets verses operation buckets. I want to take the handcuffs off our local school districts, give them more flexibility on how they are spending that money,” said Stitt.
Stitt said he also wants to standardize teacher certification tests, abolish re-certification renewal fees and move teachers to free-market health care.
Click here for more information on Stitt’s education plan.
Democratic Candidate Drew Edmondson says Stitt’s plan simply won’t work because it relies on a billion-dollar surplus that does not exist, even with the legislature passing $400 million in new taxes.
“We’re not going to have a windfall next year. Even with the $400 million that passed back in April which Mr. Stitt by the way would have vetoed, we’re not going to have a windfall in 2019.”
Edmondson says his plan to fund education would not affect most taxpayers.
“Putting the gross production tax back at seven percent, doing away with the loophole for millionaires on capital gains, and getting the other 50 cents on cigarettes would bring in over $300 million. That’s what the business community said was necessary for education. That’s what I proposed,” said Edmondson.
Libertarian Candidate Chris Powell says teachers do deserve more of a raise than the $6,100 the legislature approved this year, but he says it should be up to local districts to decide how much. Powell also says that can be funded through doing away with tax incentives called “TIF’s”.
“Mr. Stitt appears to think that we can have some tax increases at the local level. I don't think that that's necessary,” said Powell.
“I think if we eliminate TIF districts and we look at shifting some of the state budget I think we can do these things without raising taxes at any level," he said.
Speaking at a 'Meet The Candidates” forum in Oklahoma City Tuesday, Powell says he would also like to eliminate other tax incentives.
"You have almost a half a billion dollars in incentives before the incentive evaluation commission. Not counting what doesn't have a specific dollar amount. You've got things like the film subsidy where movie makers come here and make movies that don't necessarily portray us in a positive way. You've got things like the aerospace sales tax credit,” said Powell.
Powell says eliminating some of those incentives could also shift more dollars into the classroom.