Vouchers: Not a Gift for Students
Yesterday, two bills proposing Education Savings Accounts Vouchers made their way to committee in the Oklahoma Legislature. In the Senate, SB 609 breezed to its next stop – the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 6-3. There, the impact of the bill will be discussed by the 45 committee members. It’s a much harder hill to climb. Later in the day, the House did not pass HB 2003. The committee failed to advance the bill, even after the House Speaker (Jeff Hickman) came to save the day. It fell by a 9-9 vote. The outcomes surprised me. I would have guessed for a flip to this script, with the Senate voucher bill failing and the House voucher bill passing.
The House bill is pretty much a copy of the measure that Rep. Jason Nelson couldn’t even get to a tie vote. Vouchers will be awarded proportionally to students who can demonstrate certain levels of poverty in order to attend private schools that they still wouldn’t be able to afford. Apparently, that hurt some feelings.
The Senate bill, on the other hand, is a free-for-all. Any student eligible to attend public school would receive a credit for 80 percent of the formula funding that he/she generates for his/her resident school district. They could spend it on anything that loosely counts as an educational expense. This could include books, supplies, a laptop, voice lessons, athletic coaching, field trips to The Louvre, and probably even a Trapper Keeper or two.
Another fun fact of SB 609 is that the SDE would have to figure out how to disburse the other 20 percent as bonuses to teachers in the districts students aren’t attending. The more students who flee your district, the greater your bonus. That makes all the sense in the world. No, nothing could go wrong here at all. Here’s the language from page 10 of the bill:
The remaining twenty percent (20%) of the total State Aid factors multiplied by the Grade Level Weight and the Student Category Weights calculated pursuant to subsection B of Section 5 shall be used by the State Department of Education to provide bonuses to teachers in the respective resident public school districts.
Another way this bill gets fun is that right now, thousands of students don’t attend public school. This measure would add them to the funding formula. This will reduce per-pupil funding.
I get the feeling that this bill was supposed to fail and the other one was supposed to pass. I base that feeling on an email thread among its supporters that circulated widely this morning. Before I had a chance to really analyze what was in it, Rob Miller had written a brilliant piece discussing the outside influence on our legislative process. Even the conservative McCarville Report discussed the email exchange with what seemed to be a measure of disgust.
Normally, I try to post small portions of other bloggers’ work. Tonight is different. This is critical to understand. Our non-compliant legislators are being strong-armed by out-of-state politicians and activists.
The people our state elected to protect us from people from out of state are listening to people from out of state – not to Oklahomans.
Here’s a long excerpt from the middle of Rob’s The Voucher Wolves are at the Door! today:
Later in the day the positive mood was tempered when Nelson’s House version failed to clear the education committee. The following email was part of the same email chain from above. It was written from former Wisconsin House Assembly Speaker, Scott Jensen. Jensen was forced to resign his office in disgrace in 2006 after numerous ethics charges. More about this later. (emphasis is mine)
On Feb 16, 2015, at 10:18 PM, Scott Jensen <email@example.com> wrote:
I decided to take my kids out for dessert tonight after the disappointing vote in the House Education Committee. Amazingly, they wanted frozen yogurt despite the single digit temperatures here in Wisconsin. Now, that I have calmed down, I still have two serious frustrations:
First, the Chair of the House Education Committee cast the deciding vote against a proposal by a membership of the House leadership (Nelson) – a bill that the Speaker and Majority Leader came to the committee to support. As a former Speaker, I find this stunning. At a minimum, Chair Coody should have expressed her concerns with the bill, voted to advance it out of committee but said she would not be able to support it on the floor unless her concerns were addressed. Instead, she felt completely comfortable choosing the education establishment over her leadership team. It is very early in the session for this sort of challenge to the leadership. If the Speaker does not have a swift response to this vote, he can count on chaos for the rest of the session.
Second, when your team is in charge you should never lose a vote. If you don’t have the horses then the bill should be set aside and no vote should be held. I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short. Was Rep. Nelson unable to ask for the vote to be delayed so he could address some members concerns? Was Chair Coody so interested in sticking it to her leadership that she went ahead with the vote? Most legislators are conflict avoiders so they are very open to a request to delay the vote on a bill. If we didn’t have the votes, no vote should have been held. That is one of the greatest powers of the majority, deciding when a vote will be held.
If I were Speaker, it would now be a matter of honor to me that the Senate version of the ESA bill pass on the floor.
Whether or not the Speaker and his leadership team choose to instill some team discipline, we should do so. I would recommend that several organizations on this email list conduct robocalls and emails to voter lists educating them about the votes by Representatives Coody, Nollan, Thomsen, Casey and Henke. The message should be simple: these Republicans joined with liberal Democrats to defeat an important education reform supported by conservatives and the Republican leadership. Their voters should know they joined with the liberal Democrats to cast the deciding vote against giving parents more educational options. The ramifications of this vote should echo in the House chamber.
Notice Jensen’s liberal use of the terms “team” and “we”? As far as I can tell, Mr. Jensen has never spent a day in our great state, yet he is inserting himself smack dab in the middle of an Oklahoma policy debate.
I find it frightening that Jensen would write, “I was assured yesterday that a vote would not be held if we were short.” Assured by whom and for what reason? Why would ANY Oklahoma legislator ASSURE Jensen of ANYTHING!!!!
And who invited him to be part of our damn team anyway? Who is this PUPPET MASTER who is attempting to coerce and threaten our state legislators into compliance?
Well, let’s just say, Mr. Jensen has quite a colorful history. His illustrious past: rabid voucher supporter, unethical scoundrel, convicted felon…you know, just the type of person we want influencing our elections and controlling our legislative process.
There are lots of articles about Mr. Jensen online. Here is a small piece from one that ran recently titled, “Wisconsin’s Voucher Vultures.”
After a couple of years, he ran for public office himself and served as an Assembly representative for fourteen years, including as the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly for some of that time.
Then he fell from grace as he was charged and convicted of three felonies in an abuse of power and illegal campaigning scandal that rocked the statehouse and landed several top pols in jail. After more than four years of legal maneuvering, Jensen managed to get a mistrial declared by the state court of appeals and appealed all the way to the state supreme court in order to move the venue of the next trial to his home county of Waukesha.
Eight years after Jensen was caught illegally using legislative staff and resources to work on partisan campaigns and charged with felony misconduct in office, he made a deal with Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel to plead guilty to one misdemeanor, pay a $5,000 fine, reimburse the state for legal costs incurred on his behalf before he resigned, and promise to never run for public office again.
But that hasn’t kept Jensen out of the state capitol. These days he can be seen prowling its halls, unelected but more powerful than ever, throwing his influence around. For the past three years, he’s been working as a high-paid lobbyist for school vouchers, raking in over $200,000 a year to do the arm-twisting work of the Walton and DeVos families, two of the richest in the nation.
A few moments after Jensen’s email, he received a response from Leslie Hiner. She is also a school choice PUPPET MASTER who is pulling strings in states across America from her perch at the Friedman Foundation. You can read more about her atedchoice.org
From: Leslie Hiner [mailto:Leslie@edchoice.org]
Sent: Monday, February 16, 2015 10:25 PM
To: Scott Jensen
Subject: Re: Tonight’s ESA Vote in the House
Yes. As the former chief of staff to the Speaker in Indiana, I agree with Scott 100%. Wisconsin and Indiana are leading the nation in advancing educational choice, and this has not happened by accident. Leadership matters. Time for Oklahoma’s leaders to draw a line in the sand and act decisively. Until then, Oklahomans need to get the word out about who is, and who is not, supportive of families in Oklahoma.
Thank you, Scott.
And thanks to Jason Nelson for a stellar testimony today. Well done.
Wow, don’t you think it is great that these out-of-state corporate lobbyists care so much about the children of Oklahoma? To the point that they are urging Oklahoma’s leaders to “draw a line in the sand” and “instill some team discipline” to ensure this voucher bill gets passed “for the kids?” Or else, “they can count on chaos!”
Are you starting to see the connections? We have Damon Gardenhire from the Walmart Family Foundation in Arkansas, with voucher lobbyists in Wisconsin and Indiana, along with conservative propagandists and law makers in Oklahoma, working together to implement legislation that very few people in Oklahoma are asking for.
This is serious business for these people and they are pulling out all the stops to get vouchers passed in Oklahoma. They have the money and influence.
But we have thousands of individual voices. This is why you MUST share this message with all who are concerned about the future of public schools in our state.
Make no mistake, the Oklahoma legislators who voted NO yesterday will face incredible pressure from these voucher wolves to change their vote. They need to hear from us TODAY, TOMORROW, and EVERY DAY until we defeat this legislation in Oklahoma.
Sorry Rob. I know that the scoring experts at CTB/McGraw-Hill would consider direct citation of such a long passage to be plagiarism, but you really nailed this one. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I thought it was fun to see the return of such buzzwords as liberals and education establishment! It’s not even Throwback Thursday! Gee, we’ve sure missed that one lady.
Friends, we need to take back our legislature. It’s not the job of think tanks and disgraced bullies from Wisconsin to hold our elected leaders accountable. THAT’S OUR JOB! The more sway we allow these outsiders to have at our Capitol, the less we have. We pay the taxes. We vote for these people. We have to live with the misguided policies they produce. The least they could do is answer to us! We must fight their robo-calls, their Walton Family Foundation money, and their agenda to destroy public education with our voices, our feet, and our relentlessness.
I’m also interested in the fallout. The political junkie in me loves sneaking a peak of how the sausage is made. Will Coody lose her spot as committee chair? Will this bill come back as zombie legislation next week? How many House Speakers from the Midwest will show up to shepherd the legislation? Will any of the legislators who voted to kill APUSH because it is not tied to state standards see the irony in supporting a voucher education that is not tied to state standards?
I oppose what this group of anti-public education activists call school choice. Vouchers help the people who don’t need help. It puts money in the pockets of people who already have the ability to provide the school setting of their choosing. It does not get the poor and needy into the game, as they love to pretend. Meanwhile, these same reformers attack public schools, tying our legs to anvils in the middle of the lake. When we don’t sink, they add more – because anvils are always funny.
We didn’t choose this. Neither did parents. Nor did students. Let’s not pretend differently or go down without a fight.