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Statement on Sen. Bryce Marlatt's Proposal to Fund a Teacher Pay Increase With TSET Corpus Funds

Oklahoma City (Aug. 18, 2015) -- Teacher pay in Oklahoma is a critical issue. No one disputes that. Oklahoma’s poor health status and the burden this places on our schools, businesses, families, and our economy are also critically important. Ultimately we can't find ourselves pitting these critical issues against each other.

The voters of Oklahoma created the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to protect funds brought to this state through litigation against the tobacco industry for their unscrupulous business practices and the death and suffering caused by tobacco.

Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in our state, even as smoking rates in Oklahoma have reached historic lows. Oklahoma’s smoking rate is still far above the current national average and above the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan 2020 goal of 18 percent. Every day the equivalent of a classroom of Oklahoma children become addicted to tobacco, and 87,000 Oklahoma kids alive today will ultimately die from smoking.

"Oklahoma continues to rank near the bottom for health. Voters certainly have the power to voice their preference and priorities at the ballot box. Taking funds from ongoing successful efforts that improve health is not the answer.” -- Casey Killblane, TSET Board of Director member, appointed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Oklahoma is a widely recognized national model for how these funds should be used. The trust was created from bipartisan support for the legislation that put the question on the ballot, and overwhelmingly supported by voters. In fact, the state’s constitution was amended to protect the money and ensure it would be used for health.

While the endowment trust principal has grown over the years, only the earnings are allocated by the TSET Board of Directors to fund grants and programs to improve health.

In addition to the work TSET does to prevent and reduce tobacco use and obesity, TSET funds also support state-of-the art cancer treatments statewide, top-cancer researchers, community grants that serve 63 counties across the state and the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, which gives Oklahomans access to best-practice quit coaching and medications in every corner of the state, day or night.

Our work also includes supporting programs to recruit doctors to rural and underserved areas across the state. This includes a medical loan repayment program for physicians ready to establish practices, and also our most recent award to OSU to support rural physician residency programs over the next six years.

Julie Bisbee
Public Information and Outreach Officer
Direct: 405-521-4992
Cell: 405-301-3693
Email: julieb@tset.ok.gov