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Boren, teachers start petition for education sales tax

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The campaign for a proposed sales tax began today after a group of Oklahoma teachers led by OU President David Boren filed paperwork with the Oklahoma Secretary of State to launch a petition for the tax.

The initiative suggests raising Oklahoma’s sales tax by 1 cent to benefit state education. If successful, the income generated by the tax would decrease the teacher shortage, improve college affordability, increase literacy rates, improve graduation rates and expand career training, according to a press release.

It should also provide early learning opportunities for at-risk and low-income children. However, the tax increase would give Oklahoma one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation.

“We came to the sales tax as a last resort,” Boren said. Boren said polls showed that raising property or income tax was unpopular among Oklahomans.

Boren was the first to present this tax as an option for solving the education crisis in Oklahoma. Boren emphasized that he will be pursuing this venue as a private citizen, and is heading a group called Oklahoma’s Children, Our Future to promote the initiative.

“Oklahoma is not just a place that believes in equal opportunity for the affluent,” Boren said.

Following a press conference at the State Capitol, Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan, President of the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Association Linda Reid and CEO of Moran Oil Enterprises Melvin Moran continued to the Secretary of State’s office to file paperwork for the petition.

In order to eliminate partisan politics from the process, Oklahoma’s Children, Our Future is trying to gather enough signatures on the petition in 90 days to add the sales tax proposal to the 2016 November general ballot. That way, Oklahoma citizens can vote on it.

The petition will need 135,000 signatures to appear on the 2016 ballot.

At the conference, several advocates spoke about the tax. Boren began the press conference, followed by Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby, mother of two Lindsey Barbour and interim superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools David Lopez.

“To provide a quality education for their children is the best help we can give them,” Boren said. “That’s the American Dream, to rise to the top. If you work hard enough, educate yourself, you can rise. We’ve always believed that. But it’s become harder to rise, because we’re not providing quality education. We’ve got to do something.”

“It breaks my heart to see so many of my fellow teachers leaving Oklahoma schools to teach in bordering states or leaving the classroom entirely for a more livable wage,” Sheehan said. “I encourage all Oklahomans to join us in this movement.”

Boren said Oklahoma ranks fourty-ninth in the nation for funding per student, and the press release cited that almost 40 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates who attend a public university arrive unprepared for the high level classes.

“We have no other option but to give the people of Oklahoma an opportunity to invest in our children’s futures,” Former State Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki said. “If we don’t address school funding now, we will continue to lose ground and lose teachers.”

Toby Keith and Garth Brooks have already voiced their support for the proposal, Boren said.

The sales tax increase would raise $615 million annually for a newly created Education Improvement Fund, according to the press release. Of that, 19.25 percent will go to higher education. None of the income is supposed to go to administrative costs.

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