We’re approaching (Saturday, October 15, 2016) the 25th anniversary of the “No Repeal” vote on October 15, 1991 which sealed the implementation of what was arguably our state’s greatest legislative achievement—House Bill 1017 that Governor Henry Bellmon signed into law at Tulsa’s Marshall Elementary School on April 25, 1990. The photo above is of some of the key players was taken at a recent gathering. Seated is then Senator Penny Williams, next left is Cathy Newsome, then Judy Eason McIntyre who was a TPS board member at that time and later State Senator; back row from left to right are Gary Allison, Charlie Cantrell, Grant Hall, then Speaker of the House Steve Lewis, Beverly Hoster and Lee Clark Johns. Of course Lewis and Williams were giants in the legislative effort; the others were core members of the Tulsa area citizens who led the NO Repeal effort that was an inspiring success.
The genesis of H.B. 1017 was the work of Task Force 2000, established by HJR 1003 in 1989, and appointed by Governor Bellmon, Speaker Steve Lewis and President Pro Tem Bob Cullison. It was chaired by Tulsa businessman George Singer; other members included Howard Barnett, now President of OSU-Tulsa, then State Superintendent John Folks, Wilma Mankiller, Tulsa businessman Joseph Parker, Jr., and our last Tulsa County Superintendent Kara Gae Wilson (now Neal).
Governor Bellmon called the Legislature into special session on November 6, 1989 to receive the Task Force 2000 report “Oklahoma’s Public Education: A Blueprint for Excellence” and to act on education reform legislation. Beginning on November 15, when House Bill 1017, incorporating many of the report’s recommendations, passed the House but without the emergency clause, there ensued months of deliberations, conferences and votes (including a statewide teacher walkout in advance of the House passage of the emergency clause) with final Senate approval coming on April 19, 1990 and the Governor’s approval on April 25.
This historic education reform legislation included a funding increase initially of $230 million by a 1% hike in the income tax rate and 0.5% in the sales tax rate. The funding legacy of HB 1017 is that in FY 2016 the “HB 1017 Fund” was $886 million, over 1/3 of public schools’ funding. It also provided for greater equity in the funding formula to narrow the gap between property tax rich and poor districts. The minimum teacher salary was increased from $15,060, in 1990, to $24,060, in 1995; it is now $31,600.
The funding also provided for greatly expanded early childhood education; mandatory kindergarten; school district consolidation incentives (resulting in a reduction from 609 to 550 districts); limiting class sizes to 20 for elementary and 140 per day for secondary teachers. The reforms also included provision for teacher assistants, eliminating county superintendents, statewide curriculum standards, competency testing, college ready courses, alternative certification for teachers and mandatory professional development. The existing teacher tenure law was replaced with providing for teacher dismissal due process hearings to be held before local school boards.
After passage of this landmark reform legislation, opponents organized and collected signatures on an initiative petition to repeal HB 1017. Governor Bellmon set October 15, 1991 as the election date for State Question 639. Statewide campaigns for Vote Yes Repeal and Vote No Repeal ensued. On election day a record number voted with an especially huge turnout for No Repeal in northeast Oklahoma.
Result: Yes 360,318 45.67%
No 428,680 54.33%
HB 1017 remains Oklahoma law.
Epilogue: SQ 640 immediately circulated by opponents of HB 1017, passed with 56% of vote in March, 1992, requiring 3/4 vote of legislature to increase any tax.
Personal Note: As a former school board member and elected city official I was so used to voting Yes on ballot measures that I reflexively did just that and, for the first and only time as a voting citizen, had to “spoil” my ballot and ask for another so I could vote No.