Oklahoma state Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, has filed a resolution that would allow Oklahomans the chance to vote on raising the standard for school funding in the Oklahoma state Constitution.
Her resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 9, would put a state question on the ballot that, if approved, would force the legislature to “make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient and equitable system of free public schools.”
“I’ve filed SJR 9 to solidify in our constitution the highest standard of public schools for our families and future Oklahomans. By adding the words ‘efficient and equitable’ to the Constitution, the standards are elevated to ensure equitable state funding of all schools in every zip code,” Boren said in a release. “For too long, the legislature has ignored the financial needs of our state’s public schools to the detriment of Oklahoma’s students, especially those living in areas with lower property values. Since 1990 when the historic education reforms and funding increases in HB 1017 were enacted, special interests have succeeded in shifting the state burden to local taxpayers, which has defunded public schools in many communities and eroded the equity in our schools.”
Boren said that if it passes, it would hold lawmakers to a higher and more rigorous standard when it comes to supporting Oklahoma public schools.
“Each state in the nation has a constitutional provision for public schools and Oklahoma’s provision is one of the weakest,” Boren told the Transcript. “[The constitution sets the standard] for all school funding and school policies. So what I’m hoping is by raising the standard, it makes the state legislature have to rise up to that more rigorous standard for funding our schools.”
The rigorous standard Boren refers to is making school funding “equitable” and “efficient” across the board.
The way in which many states ensure equitable funding of schools is by making sure they are not too reliant on the local municipality surrounding the school, Boren said.
“What causes school funding to be unfair is when we put too much on local property values,” Boren said. “When too much of your state funding and what ends up in the classroom is dependent on local property value, that’s when you see an economic disparity [such as] really wealthy schools and really poor schools. Over the years, Oklahoma has shifted more to state legislatures not fully funding the schools and local communities have filled in that gap. The wealthy districts have been able to stay open, poorer districts have had to close.”
This economic disparity in school funding is reflected across the state, not just in particular areas, Boren said.
“We have watched schools in rural and urban areas close due to low property values, and our Constitution needs to raise the standard to protect those students and their families,” she said.