When voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, proponents of the measure said portion of its tax revenue would go to education. Now, lawmakers think they've zeroed in on the best way to spend the multimillion-dollar tax revenue.
The Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously approved a plan Wednesday that would direct medical marijuana tax revenue to the state’s low-income districts as well as brick and mortar public charter schools. The bill also reverses a State Department of Education decision to allow in-person and virtual charter schools draw on local tax dollars meant to finance school building funds.
An estimated $38 million would be divided up among the schools with the lowest local tax revenue. This year, that is about 300 districts. Lawton Public Schools would see the greatest benefit with around $1.9 million dollars in medical marijuana funds.
“We are one of only four states in the entire country that doesn’t have some sort of equalization mechanism to provide for low property value areas of the state, for school districts just aren’t getting as much money because there’s not as much wealth in their area,” Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow said.
“The Redbud School Funding Act provides a much-needed funding resource for hundreds of Oklahoma districts and charter schools that have struggled to construct and maintain local school buildings due to little or no access to ad valorem dollars,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in a statement.
For schools that have good local property tax collections, Hilbert said his bill saves them from losing money due to the SDE settlement, causing traditional schools to give up local tax dollars to charter schools.
“If we do nothing and the State Board of Education‘s decision goes into effect on July 1, in Oklahoma City Public Schools, Tulsa Public schools, and many other schools that won’t receive a grant, will lose millions of dollars that they will thing be sending each year to charter schools,” Hilbert said.
The bill is supported by both the State School Boards Association and the Charter School Association. Hilbert said it’s a rare agreement among a seemingly constant education funding fight.
The bill now is eligible to be heard in the State Senate.