Educators asking Oklahomans to take their tax refunds and #GiveItBackOK

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OKLAHOMA -- There is an effort gaining momentum in the Sooner State to help provide schools with more funding.

Districts found out last week they would have to slash their budgets. Something that is hard to do at the halfway point in the school year.

The cuts come after tax breaks went into effect for everyone on Jan. 1 of this year. Some who work in education say it’s a contradiction that just doesn't add up.

Dr. Rick Cobb, Superintendent of Mid-Del Schools, said, “This 3-percent to us is pretty heavy.”

It's an unimaginable - and seemingly impossible - task to adjust their budgets at this point in the year.

“We expect we need to find $1 million to cut between now and June,” Cobb said.

Budget cuts approved by the state board of education last week mean districts like Mid-Del will have to make big changes. Approximately 50-percent of Mid-Del's operating budget is funded by the state.

The cuts have prompted Dr. Rick Cobb and others school leaders in the state to take action. They’ve created the #GiveItBackOK campaign in hopes of encouraging Oklahomans to help their schools out.

Cobb is challenging Oklahomans to step in and help out, specifically asking for the money everyone has gained through tax breaks that took effect Jan. 1.

“You can give it to your elementary school library, you could give it to a high school band booster club,” Cobb said.

Dr. Cobb says he plans to donate the money he's getting from the recent tax breaks to the Mid-Del Public Schools Foundation.

The state tax commission says those dollars are tax deductible at both the state and federal level.

Tax commission officials say, in Oklahoma, you can check a certain box when filing your taxes to donate a portion of your refund to education. On the federal level, donations to education are something you can add as a charitable donation.

To take advantage of those options, it’s best to talk to your accountant or financial adviser.

While the donations cannot make up for all of the money the schools are losing, Dr. Cobb says it can make a difference.

“What it does is it makes a statement that we think the schools need this money more than we personally do,” he said.

It's a statement he hopes lawmakers will hear.

Cobb and other educators question why lawmakers would allow tax breaks to take effect when the state has seen such a huge budget shortfall.

He said, “A tax cut, with that being the budget situation, doesn't seem responsible.”

Lawmakers were not available for an on-camera interview Monday, but Senator Clark Jolley told us in a phone conversation that the tax breaks were actually voted on years ago and that there's almost no way to have them reversed.

Gov. Mary Fallin's office sent a statement Monday evening.

“Most of the state’s revenue decline can be attributed to the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry and the 70 percent decline in the price of oil in the past 18 months. We've lost about 12,000 jobs from the energy sector decline, and that has an effect upon our sales tax, our income tax, our use tax, our motor vehicle tax and certainly the gross production tax on oil and gas. Modest, incremental income tax reductions are not the problem.

“The income tax cut’s budgetary impact is $120 million in the upcoming 2017 fiscal year, which is only a little more than 10 percent of the projected budget hole. It’s a fact, the state would still have over an $800 million budget hole even if that tax cut hadn’t taken effect.

“Up until the energy downturn, Oklahoma had the fourth-fasted growing economy in the nation. This tax cut will prove its worth in the long term. Tax policy is long-term policy and over the long term, a lower tax burden is good policy and the policy the voters have asked for in Oklahoma. If Oklahoma wants to attract and retain good jobs – rather than losing them to neighboring states – we must improve our tax climate.” – Governor Mary Fallin

The #GiveItBackOK is not the only campaign developed since the cuts were announced last week. Another hashtag gaining popularity is #SupportOKTeachers. The group behind that hashtag is encouraging Oklahomans to buy gift cards for local schools to help them purchase supplies.

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