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Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry joins fight against State Question 744

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry says he will serve as honorary chairman of the One Oklahoma Coalition, which opposes passage of State Question 744. First lady Kim Henry, a former schoolteacher, also is against the measure, the governor says.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: September 22, 2010 at 5:15 am •  Published: September 22, 2010
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"Brad Henry's first and best campaign promise was to bring Oklahoma up to the regional average in teacher pay," said Gilpin, of Tulsa, who was appointed in 2005 to a six-year term on the Education Board. "I believe that voting yes on State Question 744 will allow us to finally make good on this and other promises made to the children of Oklahoma."

Supporters of the question say the state hasn't funded education to appropriate levels. Oklahoma ranks near the bottom for how much the state spends per student each year, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics. Oklahoma spends $7,683 per pupil per year; the national average is $10,297.

Opponents say funding per-pupil spending to the regional average would cost $800 million to $1.7 billion in the three years the funding requirement would be phased in.

SQ 744 would not raise taxes, nor would it provide new funding for the new spending requirements.

"Without a revenue source, it would just absolutely be devastating to every other area of government at a time when we are slowly pulling out of this economic recession," Henry said.

The governor said it was a painful personal decision to help defeat SQ 744 because he has been a strong supporter of public schools throughout his two terms as governor and 10 years as a state senator before that.

"I have many, many friends on the other side of this issue," Henry said. "The easiest thing for me would have been just to sit on the sideline and stay out of this debate. But I think this debate is absolutely important, especially given the dramatic negative consequences of passage of State Question 744. This may be the most important state question that we face in at least 20 years."

But from a policy standpoint, he said, it was "a no-brainer" to oppose SQ 744 because it would tie the hands of future state leaders by amending the state constitution with specific budget mandates that limit their ability to effectively respond to emergencies and address needs in other areas.

About 30 current and past members of the Oklahoma Silver-Haired Legislature ducked out of meetings in the Capitol to hear the governor. Most applauded when he finished his comments.

"This is not the solution," said Jim Spencer, of Shawnee, who served from 2002-06 in the advocacy group for seniors.