Passage of a state question that would require Oklahoma to increase its per-pupil expenditure to the average of surrounding states would have drastic effects on core state services, as well as higher education, early childhood programs and the CareerTech system, Gov. Brad Henry said Tuesday in announcing he would serve as an honorary chairman of a group opposed to the measure.
"I care about the future of our state," said Henry, whose term expires in January and who is prohibited from seeking a third term. "And it's so important that I felt I simply had no choice but to get involved."
Approval of State Question 744 also would come at a time the state slowly is recovering from the economic recession, Henry said.
"I have major, major concerns about this proposal," he said. "If State Question 744 passes, it will absolutely devastate the budgets of all other critical areas in state government, and we just simply cannot allow that to happen."
Henry said he will serve as honorary chairman of the One Oklahoma Coalition, a group made up of businesses, unions and farming, health care, banking and transportation groups opposed to SQ 744. He said funding for public schools needs to be increased in Oklahoma, but SQ 744 — to be decided by voters Nov. 2 — is the wrong solution.
"There should absolutely be no debate about whether we need to increase funding for public education — we absolutely do," he said. "But we need to increase funding for public education at all levels — early childhood, K through 12, higher education and CareerTech."
Henry recounted advances made in public education funding during his eight years as governor. He successfully pushed measures for the state to pay health insurance for teachers, increase teacher pay and develop an early childhood education program.
"We have directed more money to the classroom than any other gubernatorial administration," he said, saying he backed measures that created two new revenue sources for education, the lottery and tribal gaming.
Henry said his wife, Kim, a former schoolteacher, is also opposed to SQ 744.
"She values public education and is adamantly in support of raising funding for education, but not if it has to come at the expense of all other critical programs in state government," the governor said.
Some support measure
Tim Gilpin, a Henry appointee to the state Education Board and a member of the Yes on 744 coalition, said he is disappointed by Henry's announcement.