LAWTON, OK (KSWO)-While the outcome of the presidential race in Oklahoma is a foregone conclusion, there is plenty of doubt regarding the state questions. Among them, the one-penny sales tax to increase teacher pay and education funding which is the topic of question 779.
Supporters say the 5-thousand-dollar salary increase is vital to stop the flow of teachers out of our state. But, opponents say it unfairly impacts lower-income citizens, and hurt local governments' ability to raise or maintain their own sales taxes which are used for street projects and vital services.
Arlene Cudd is the president of the Professional Educators Association of Lawton, supports the plan and believes it will improve student achievement in the classroom. Debra Welch, is the president of the Lawton-Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. She said while the chamber cannot take a stand on the question, she can voice the concerns of those in the business community who are members, and they have strong objections to the plan.
"I think most teachers would be very thrilled if we just got the 1%. if we just got this 5,000 and I think it will encourage the teachers that may be thinking about retirement to stay on. And, I think it will encourage the Cameron college students to maybe stay around this area”, said Cudd.
"Personally, I think we have to be very sensitive to the fact that this state question doesn't address all the needs that it is going to restrict the legislature, that it is going to hurt our community and I think we need to be equal sensitive to the teachers. there is another way to get this done”, said Welch.
Cudd says the cost of living, health insurance, and even college tuition rates are continuing to rise in the state. On average Cudd said a teacher in Oklahoma makes around 33 thousand dollars a year, which ranks 49th in the nation, and this proposal can help benefit teachers and students.
"We want our kids to have choices and education is the way out, it really is. If you get a good education you can climb out of poverty”, said Cudd.
Lawton Fort-Sill Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Debra Welch said while the state must be more competitive when it comes to teachers pay, local business owners believe there's a better way to fund it.
"None of our members have told us that it is a good plan, only that it is the only plan. What we are asking our legislators to do is to develop a good plan an effective plan. We are going to lobby in support of that”, said Welch.
Welch said education is important but the extra penny sales tax could hurt the economy.
"It puts Oklahoma at one of the highest sales taxes in the nation. Not only that it impacts the poor more because it is a regressive tax. When people have a sales tax holiday, they just flock to a place that has a sales tax holiday! Imagine what they will do when you crank it up. It is going to hurt. Our members have voiced an opinion that this will be very detrimental to our community”, said Welch.
Cudd said the increase will even out the economy.
"People will pay more, but also people will spend more too because the teachers will have a more discretionary income”, said Cudd.
Cudd says even if the proposal is not passed she will still fight for better pay for teacher in Oklahoma. She said she will always support the people of Lawton and their decisions but there needs to be a change for teachers.