Two Things: #SOTS and Groundhog Day
Happy Groundhog Day!
Yesterday, Governor Mary Fallin gave her State of the State speech to the Oklahoma Legislature. Among other things, she made her education agenda perfectly clear. I’ll address that below in my Tuesday Two Things post. Overall, I found it fitting that Fallin included inher remarks Yogi Berra’s quote, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
First, I have to say that I was impressed by one particular part of the speech. She proposed sensible sentencing reforms for non-violent drug offenders. Oklahoma has overcrowded prisons; this is a long-standing truth. What is also true is the sociology behind these sentences. These lengthy sentences impact minorities and the poor disproportionately. They permanently remove people from the mainstream of society, often before they’re independent adults. I’m all for being tough on dealers and violent criminals. Let’s just not overly penalize people for the mistakes they make when they’re young – especially when the crime is more or less self-abuse.
Here were her suggestions:
- First, let’s allow district attorneys to have the discretion to file any first drug offense as a misdemeanor.
- Next, we lower the mandatory sentence from two to 10 years in prison, to zero to five years in prison.
- For second felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from two years to life, to zero to 10 years.
- And for third felony offenses for drug possession, lower the mandatory sentence from six years to life with no probation to zero to 15 years.
- For property crimes, let’s raise the value of a felony crime from $500 to $1,000. The $500 benchmark has been in place since 2002, and it needs to be raised. A teen who steals someone’s smartphone today could be branded for life as a felon because smartphones cost more than $500; twenty years ago, most cell phones cost less than $100.
I don’t know if the Legislature will move on this proposal or how much money it will save if they do. I just know that this makes sense in terms of human potential. Unfortunately, that doesn’t provide for a seamless segue to Fallin’s comments on education.
- Fallin proposed $178 million in new money for a permanent $3,000 raise for teachers. If that happens, Oklahoma teacher pay would rise all the way to 44th in the country. It’s not enough to make our salaries regionally competitive, but it’s at least something. As always, something is better than nothing.
- Things I didn’t like:
- The 3% funding cut to education prior to the infusion of $178 million in new money. So we’re supposed to go ahead with the cuts we’re trying to absorb and then reward everybody who survives with raises? They’ll need it. Things are going to be tougher on our remaining teacher, for sure. Districts will still have to cut teaching positions to balance budgets.
- Her push for school consolidation. I know she’s only talking about the K-8 districts, but honestly, we don’t really save money through her scheme. It’s just a distraction.
- The flexibility to use district’s building funds for salary. This is great for the districts with high assessed property valuations, but for many districts, there just isn’t a lot of “there” there.
- Her love of A-F Report Cards and the RSA law. These are two failed reforms. Ask teachers and parents what they think of them. Better yet, ask kids.
- As for her “100 percent support” of vouchers, they’re my line in the sand. You can’t say you support them (especially with zero accountability) and also say you support public education. This is all just the ALEC playbook. It shows no original thought. It has nothing to do with Oklahoma values, whatever that really means.
That’s all for now. I’ll spend some more time processing/writing later in the week or over the weekend. In the meantime, here are a few links for you, if you want to read more:
- Text of the governor’s speech
- The governor’s budget proposal
- Superintendent Hofmeister’s response to the teacher raise proposal
- Oklahoma Policy Institute statement on SOTS
- A great poem by e.e. cummings (just because)
And because today is Groundhog Day, I thought you’d enjoy this: