OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Supporters of an education reform package lavished praise on voters Wednesday for sparing it in a referendum, while opponents geared up for a campaign to require statewide votes on future tax increases.

Gov. David Walters said support for the law requiring higher taxes to pay for improved teacher salaries and smaller classrooms showed Oklahoma was on its way to becoming ''the best state in the United States.''

State House Speaker Glen Johnson said the 103-page law enacted by the Legislature last year and upheld by voters Tuesday will put Oklahoma ''on the cutting edge'' in education among the 50 states.

In unofficial returns, the vote against repeal was 428,602, or 54 percent, to 360,417, or 46 percent. The total vote of 789,019 surpassed the record vote for a special election of 711,000 in 1959 on the constitutional amendment that repealed Prohibition.

A nine-month special session of the Legislature called last year by then- Gov. Henry Bellmon enacted the education law after thousands of teachers walked out of their classrooms and rallied for it at the state Capitol.

The law raised personal income and corporate income taxes as well as the state sales tax to pump an estimated $2 billion over five years into schools. The money pays for higher salaries, smaller classrooms and stricter requirements.

Dan Brown, president of the Oklahoma Taxpayers' Union and a leader of the movement to repeal the package known as House Bill 1017, said his group will turn its attention to a proposed constitutional amendment.

It would require a three-fourths vote of the Legislature on tax increases before they could take effect without a statewide vote. The proposal is under legal attack, but Brown said he is confident the state Supreme Court will validate petitions and allow a statewide vote.

''I don't think the pro-1017 forces have won,'' Brown said. ''I think the vote that they got was reluctant and a lot of it was because of the scare tactics they used.''

Those who said the higher taxes brought reform had said repeal would hinder the state's economic development and keep Oklahoma in the backwater on education. They also said repeal would create chaos in schools.

Brown cited television advertising that warned that local property taxes would have to be increased, hurting the elderly. He said the ad was especially effective in rural areas.

Stan Ward, chairman of STOP New Taxes, called the election ''a remarkable showing for grassroots support and an effort to put the citizen back into the legislative process.''

He noted the anti-tax group was heavily outspent by Growth Oklahoma, a coalition of business and education organizations that fought repeal.

Lance Ward, state Election Board secretary, said there was considerable confusion among voters because they were voting in support of 1017 with their ''no'' votes, while opting to repeal it with their ''yes'' votes.

Ward said several voters said they made a mistake and wanted their ballots back.