The Tulsa World asked each candidate running for governor in the primary election a set of questions. Read all the questions and answers at the Tulsa World’s home for all of its election coverage: tulsaworld.com/election2018
The question: Even if pay raises associated with HB 1010XX go into effect, schools say they don’t have the money to add new positions, reduce class sizes and restore courses and programs cut over the past decade. What is your response?
Chris Barnett: Any state government worker making over $100K a year would have a choice to take a pay cut or job cut. We have a gross production tax on oil and natural gas, but I would purpose to put a gross production tax on wind energy, all of which would go to education. We need to stop the waste with the lottery and make it all go to K-12 education. I would like to see state government health insurance be offered to our teachers. We also need to enforce the laws on alcohol being shipped into the state untaxed and put that money to education.
Mick Cornett: I understand the teacher pay raise is only a first step, but it was a good first step. I believe we should invest more in education and make reforms along the way, but the way we need to make those investments, when they are financial, is by growing and diversifying the economy. In my experience as mayor, I learned budgeting is about leadership and priorities. As governor, my priorities will be education and health, and I believe we need to fund those areas first.
Eric Foutch: My priorities to get consistent funding for education and core state services would be to lower the ridiculous 75 percent threshold for revenue raising initiatives set forth in SQ 640. Second would be to raise gross production tax. Oil and gas companies have been getting a sweetheart of a deal at 3.2 percent for years; I would like to see it at 7 percent. (Texas taxes at 8.3 percent, Wyoming and Arkansas at 13 percent.) Third, the capital gains tax exemption benefits far too few Oklahomans while costing the rest of us (98 percent) approximately $125 million per year.
Dan Fisher: Our entire education system needs to be streamlined and restructured to emphasize the classroom instead of administrative bureaucracy. We need to eliminate the funding “silos” that place severe restrictions on how different education funds can be used. It seems inconsistent to me that our local communities can build state-of-the-art facilities and football stadiums, some rivaling small colleges/universities, while they cannot provide basic classroom needs. This is ridiculous and must be corrected.
Barry Gowdy: We will get the teachers their raise and fund our children’s education. It’s a must. As governor, this will happen. Government will be held accountable and run more efficient under my administration.
Gary Jones: I agree our schools are strapped and additional funding is required. Much more work remains to help education.
Todd Lamb: Education is a priority. My RENEW Oklahoma plan mandates 65 percent of funding to the classroom where the most important individuals are: teachers and students. Oklahoma ranks poorly in allocating money to classrooms. This budget spends nearly $500 million more on education than FY18 and is the largest common education appropriation ever. Adjusted for cost of living, Oklahoma teacher compensation will rank 11th. Academic rigor, like requiring third-graders read on grade level before advancing, must occur. Legislators missed an opportunity to reform education funding and strengthen academic rigor this session. I give HB 1010xx an “F” in reform and rigor.
Gary Richardson: Like it or not, problems that take years to create also take years to solve. The reason our education system is falling short is because we have leadership trying to prescribe a cure without first getting a diagnosis. Without regular performance audits, of both common and higher ed, we should never expect the problem to get better. Blindly pouring money into a flawed system has never solved our education problems in the past and it won’t solve our problems in the future.
Blake “Cowboy” Stephens: I am a career educator and have spent the past 21 years as a school counselor in rural Oklahoma. I have experienced personally and professionally the repercussions of being an Oklahoma educator. We have to value our educators and our children. Our children are the future. If our children aren’t important, what is? I firmly believe we have to fund education first! For the first time in state history, we put education first. When we do that it fixes everything. The message is sent to the rest of the country: Oklahoma cares about its people. Economic development flourishes and incarceration decreases.
Kevin Stitt: Oklahoma didn’t get into this mess overnight. If the career politicians could have fixed it by now, they would have done so already. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and be a problem-solver for Oklahoma. It is how I built my nationwide company of 1,200 employees with little resources and no how-to manual. I am committed to working with Oklahomans to make the hard decisions that puts Oklahoma on the path to being top 10 in education.
Drew Edmondson: The state needs to provide more funding for education. We need to recognize that we have a revenue problem. To raise funds, we should restore the gross production tax on oil and gas to 7 percent, where it has been in the past. We also need to end the capital gains tax exemption, which has cost the state $465 million over five years. We need to use this revenue to fully fund schools and invest in the future of Oklahoma. If we don’t invest in Oklahoma, we can’t expect others to.
Connie Johnson: To the extent that we are operating at a budget that is 15 percent less than what it was in 2007, with more than 165,000 more people, even by holding existing funding streams more accountable (e.g. by ending preferential tax cuts), the money to fund vital governmental services is just not there. I will implement balanced and equitable energy policies for wind and solar, along with reforming policies for cannabis. I would hold schools accountable to fund educational programs based on community needs, including taking steps to ensure maximum funding of direct educational services to children and families, and to rein in high administrative costs.
Rex Lawhorn: Individual school budget decisions are made at the local level. Two situations are occurring simultaneously that prevent those reforms and improvements from being made, and no amount of additional funding will remove those impediments. We have to revise the 52 funding silos that schools currently use, and the school district budgets have to become transparent so the community sees where all the funding is going. It will encourage boards to make decisions better in line with students’ needs.
Joe “Exotic” Maldonado: I would like to put a panel together of educators from all parties to work toward bipartisan reform. The new money will mean nothing without structural reform.
Chris Powell: We need to move common education closer to the model of CareerTech, which has a far lower percentage of its funding coming from the Legislature. A step in the right direction would be to eliminate Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, which rob our county governments and our local schools of revenue in the name of economic development. As TIFs deplete local funding for our schools, the difference is made up through state appropriations, putting more power over the classroom in the hands of the Legislature. This is just one way to increase the percentage of education funding that comes from the local level.