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Welcome to the walkout, from okeducationmom

April 2, 2018 Comments off

A couple of years ago, I turned the blog over to my mom, who proceeded to get more page views than I usually do when I post something. As we reminisce about HB 1017 and prepare to meet at the Capitol, I thought this would be a great time to give her the keys to the blog again.


Hello, Friends,

This week is nostalgic for me. As children, educators, support personnel, state employees and all who believe in public education and love Oklahoma, we are saying our farewells to David Boren who will soon be leaving the University of Oklahoma. We will also be sending our very best wishes to the Oklahoma legislature; we desperately want our leaders to succeed in passing legislation that will properly fund the core services of our great state.

When I marched for the passage of HB 1017 in 1990, I was hopeful and then grateful that Governor Henry Bellmon and a bipartisan group of legislators found a way to move public education forward. The future looked very hopeful. We had so much pride in our state. While our funding mechanism was getting back on track in Oklahoma, Senator Boren was making us proud in Washington D.C. There was a great deal of trust ​and hope for our future.

Bellmon

Governor Bellmon signing HB 1017 into law in 1990

My son, Rick Cobb, was a student at OU, and he was paying attention. He was working on his degree in English, writing columns for the OU Daily, and supporting my efforts to be a part of the change that Oklahoma desperately needed. He also interned the summer after his junior year for Senator Boren.

IMG_3295

This 1991 photo hasn’t aged well.

Are you beginning to see why I am feeling nostalgic? As I watch President Boren prepare to depart my beloved university, I am looking for the next phase of progress for Oklahoma. The legislature has finally broken the 75% threshold that can produce new revenue streams for our core services. It took decades for this progress to be achieved. Sadly, it only took a little over one hour to reduce this same progress the next day.

I believe that most of us are looking for assurance that more commitment is coming from the legislature and governor next week. Most of us know that not every piece of the puzzle will emerge, but more needs to happen. Trust​ is an essential part of the solution! We need to know that solutions will not be taken away in the blink of an eye. Any funding removed needs to be replaced in an equitable way.

I have been so impressed with some members in both parties for their efforts to find compromise and equity in searching for revenue streams. It is no easy task, but it has to happen. As someone who has always felt the responsibility to do my part, I want to say, “good luck” to one and all. Good luck, Governor Fallin, members of the legislature, and citizens of Oklahoma, as you deliberate the fate of our state. Our children need us to be wise and brave. Our children need a bright future.

And thank you, Governor/Senator/President Boren for your service to our state and country. You have lived your life in service to others. We must all endeavor to do the same.

 

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Countdown: One Day

April 1, 2018 Comments off

This week, the Legislature passed a series of bills that raised taxes, increased the state education budget by 19 percent, and modified the state salary schedule to provide significant raises for teachers. They also passed legislation to mandate raises for support staff and restore some of our operational costs. Finally, Thursday, they amended the original package to remove one of the sources of revenue: A hotel/motel tax. The governor then signed most of these bills.

Between the passage of the education package in the senate Wednesday night and the repeal of the hotel/motel tax Thursday afternoon, I had already polled my district. Including teachers, support staff, and administrators, the survey had 969 responses. Of those, 93% still wanted to walkout on Monday, with 83% wanting to stay out multiple days. As a superintendent, I appreciate the clarity. Making the decision to be out of school Monday was easy. I can’t imagine what might happen Monday at the Capitol that would make the 83% change their minds, but I’m a real never say never kind of guy.

Never tell me the odds.gif

This walkout, if you ask many teachers, is long overdue. Ten years of budget cuts, unfunded mandates, and stagnant salaries have taken a toll on the profession. I don’t think anybody expected the Legislature to fix a decade of neglect in one sweeping motion. Faith isn’t restored that easily.

I happen to think they made good progress. They passed a tax increase for the first time in 28 years and raised salaries significantly. Still, there are good reasons for thinking this isn’t enough.

  1. While an average increase of about $6,100 in salaries will improve Oklahoma’s place in regional and national rankings, we also know that those are moving targets. Other states don’t wait ten years to raise salaries.
  2. In 1992, Oklahomans passed State Question 640, which requires that the Legislature reach a 75% majority in each chamber in order to pass a tax increase. A tax cut, on the other hand, only takes 50%. We saw this dynamic play out perfectly in about 24 hours this week. This is no way to fund core state services.
  3. I saw reports last week that the Democrats think funding for this package is about $150 million short and that Republicans think (after repealing the hotel/motel tax) that it’s about $20 million short. It’s very possible that one group is overstating the gap and that another group is understating the gap. It’s politics. And it’s the dynamic that concerns me more than the gap itself. The Legislature builds a budget based on estimates. They could estimate high on one revenue stream and then low on another. The immediate gamesmanship that followed a brief period of bipartisanship is a threat to any future progress.
  4. Support employees received raises as well, but far less than what they deserve. These are the lowest-paid employees in our schools. They feed our kids, drive our buses, run our offices, and repair our buildings. When we can’t find enough teachers, they help us manage large classes. The Legislature really needs to revisit this piece of the puzzle.
  5. Retired teachers deserve cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). My mom, who was a special education teacher for 29 years, retired in 2001 and hasn’t had a COLA in a decade either. Meanwhile, her HealthChoice premiums continue to increase. She sees less of her retirement every year. (FYI – I’ll run a guest blog from her in the morning.)
  6. This week’s budget restored $50 million (outside of the raises) to the overall funding of public schools. While that’s a start in the right direction, let me explain why that doesn’t go very far.
    1. Of the $50 million, textbooks get $33 million. To put this number in context, that was the amount allocated to textbooks in 2008, the year I became Director of Curriculum in Moore. Since then, school enrollment has increased by 60,000, and the cost of textbooks has significantly increased.
    2. That leaves about $17 million restored to the formula to put back into classrooms. By our estimates in Mid-Del, our portion of this amount would be enough to bring back about seven of the 60+ teaching positions (100 positions overall) that we cut two years ago. It helps. It really does – but not enough to make significant dents in class sizes throughout our district or the state.
  7. Future Legislatures could roll back some or all of this progress. They could also add to it. We have no way of knowing, but that’s how government works. I would say that overall, the 56th Oklahoma Legislature has been the most education-friendly body of lawmakers we’ve had in a decade. The group that took office in 2017 included the biggest group of new members since the state adopted term limits. The best way to ensure that the momentum continues – once the walkout ends – is to vote for candidates who will continue chipping away at policies that threaten the stability of our state’s budget.

By the way, when you go to the Capitol tomorrow, you should understand that #oklaed has allies in both parties. Look for the ones who consistently engage with educators, even especially when avoiding them would be easier.

Marcus McEntire

That’s Marcus McEntire from Duncan – one of the freshman legislators who takes the time to listen to his constituents. At this historic moment, we have a chance to help our legislators understand that we’re not just talking about teacher raises.

One thing I plan to do this week is to ask the House members I know to hear SB 1086, which passed in the Senate on March 15th with a 30-9 vote (with nine senators not voting). According to the fiscal impact statement provided by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, this measure could provide an additional $120 million in revenue as early as the 2020 fiscal year. They did not estimate how it would impact the budget they’re planning right now, but there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead. Cynthia Rogers, an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma, wrote this for the Oklahoman:

The capital gains tax deduction primarily serves as a tax loophole for the wealthiest individuals in the state. Based on Oklahoma Tax Commission data, 17,274 taxpayers claimed the deduction in 2014. Of these, 824 had a federal adjusted gross income of $1 million or more. This group claimed 64 percent of the total capital gains tax deduction. Individuals with a federal adjusted income of $50,000 or less claimed only 2.4 percent of the total deduction.

As a member of the Incentive Evaluation Commission, I voted to eliminate the capital gains tax deduction. We simply have no evidence that the program provides a positive net benefit to the state. Only 10 other states treat capital gains tax deduction is a similar manner as Oklahoma does. Of these, only five allow real property to qualify for the deduction. PFM could find no examples of state-level evaluations of capital gains tax deductions.

I’m thankful for the progress we’ve seen this session. I hope it continues. We should never be satisfied that we’ve done enough to help school districts recruit and retain teachers or to fully fund what happens in the classroom.

Don’t just go to the Capitol tomorrow. Go inside. Find your representative and senator. Make a new friend.

See you there.

Countdown: 8 Days

March 25, 2018 Comments off

Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other “Okies”, they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
-John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Tomorrow, all across Oklahoma, we will have school. Buses will drive through neighborhoods and collect children. Cafeterias will prepare and serve breakfasts and lunches. Teachers will teach. Nurses will treat scrapes. Secretaries will answer parents’ questions.

Hopefully, a week from tomorrow, the same thing will happen.

I copied the tweet at the top of this post because I like literature. For that matter, I also like history. Oh, and I like patterns. Events that repeat themselves, even in unfamiliar iterations, string together all of human existence.

Grapes of Wrath

It’s pretty easy to see why the quote works as a proxy for the current condition of public schools in Oklahoma. Many of the young people we educate in our public schools and train to become teachers in our universities know that leaving the state to start a teaching career makes much more sense than staying here. Over 35 years, if teachers in Texas make $20,000 more than teachers in Oklahoma…well, do the math.

When I started writing this, I googled the quote at the top for accuracy. Once I verified it, the first article in my search caught my attention. It was a 1990 New York Times piece titled, “Why Steinbeck’s Okies Speak to Us Today.” I clicked on it, expecting to find an article about the last mass teacher walkout, which was also in 1990.

Times.png

Instead, the article is a riveting analysis of the novel. Here’s an excerpt:

The true lesson of the times, he now suggested, was the importance of community – not community defined in traditional, geographical terms; not the community of a neighborhood, or a town, or a region; but a community of the human spirit, for which the only real model was the family.

Obviously, this post – just like every conversation I’ve had with anyone over the last couple of weeks – is about the threat promise of teachers walking off the job April 2nd if the Legislature doesn’t find a way to fund raises for teachers and support staff, along with operational costs. It’s a simple request with a nine-digit price tag – a HIGH nine-digit price tag.

The need requires little explanation at this point. Just in case you need a refresher, though, watch this Moore High School student tell us what we need to hear:

I’m losing count of the articulate, passionate Facebook posts I’ve seen from teachers about this current situation – not to mention posts from politicians expressing frustration over the lack of movement in the Legislature.

I’ve seen several plans, but no bills. We’ll know something is happening when we see bills. After the failure of two separate revenue plans in the two extraordinary sessions the governor has called, I don’t think we’ll see a bill until the House leadership thinks they have the votes to pass it.

From what I’ve been told, the Legislature has three days to avoid the teacher walkout. Someone needs to author a bill. It needs to pass the House and then the Senate. That’s the short version; everything our government does is always a little more complicated than that.

With that, I’ll close with another quote from the book:

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

We’re a week away, stronger, resolved, and hopefully relentless.

Countdown: 14 Days

March 19, 2018 2 comments

After a months-long blogging hiatus, I wrote a little piece last night about the looming work-stoppage. I gave it a simplistic title, Countdown: 15 Days. The nomenclature is catchy, I see.

IMG_3246

Please understand, friends, that this doesn’t mean I’ll be writing a daily post until this is over.

Tonight, I don’t want to focus on the money. That’s important, but it’s only a part of the conversation. I want to go back about exactly six years.

The State Board of Education was to hold an open meeting to hear public comments on the proposed rules for the first round of A-F Report Cards. The date was Monday, March 19, 2012.

I wasn’t there, but then again, neither was the State Board of Education. Counsel for the State Board of Education was there in their place. Fortunately, Claudia Swisher wrote about the day in one of her first blog posts:

The Board Room was packed. Lisa Enders, the General Council, chaired the meeting. No Board members were present, but Enders assured us the Board will get the video and all the written responses before their next meeting…NEXT week.

This was typical of how educators were treated during the administration of the previous state superintendent. Somebody would make a perfunctory effort to gather input from stakeholders, even some actual educators. Then, from what I have gathered, that input was shoved into a file cabinet, lit aflame, and hurtled from the top of Mt. Scott.

This isn’t smart people. We’re pretty much in a perpetual burn ban. It would be better to hide those good ideas and meaningful concerns in a warehouse, ala Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Raiders Warehouse

Claudia went on to note concerns expressed by legislators, community leaders, educators, and parents. While all of those concerns were ignored, this moment was the impetus for several years of effective – if often disorganized – activism in the #oklaed community.

Inspired by Claudia’s writing, I started blogging. So did Rob Miller, and countless other pro-public education advocates. Over the next few years, we had moments. We had victories. Some were in the legislative process. Some were at the ballot box.

Policy-wise, we still have to deal with some reforms that don’t make sense to educators and that keep us from truly focusing on children. I shudder to think of all the state testing pep rallies that will have to be rescheduled because of the work-stoppage.

Still, other than with funding, we’re in a better place than we were in 2012. I’ll point to two specific moments that mattered. For both, I’ll point to blog posts I wrote in 2014 and then explain how they’re relevant now.

In May 2014, the biggest battle we were facing was to let parents have a say in whether or not their third graders would be retained because of one test on a single day. The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World chimed in on it frequently. Here’s what happened:

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed HB 2625, adding parents to the retention/promotion committees. Fallin vetoed it. The House and Senate took about three seconds to override her veto. They didn’t even debate it.

This afternoon, both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature voted to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625, which amends the Reading Sufficiency Act.  The vote in the House was 79-17. In the Senate it was 45-2.

Many parents and educators lobbied for today’s action, even after Fallin waited until nearly midnight to officially notify the House of the veto she had announced hours earlier at a press conference. In the end, only a few changed their votes. Before the veto, the combined tally had been 132-7 in favor of the bill. Today, it was 124-19. Maybe the governor, the state superintendent, and their friends at the Oklahoman and OCPA can take solace in the fact that they nearly tripled their vote count from before.

The state superintendent also called the veto override “a pathetic and outrageous step back.” We’ll get to her in a minute.

Passing this bill took courage from quite a few legislators – none more than Rep. Katie Henke. It also took relentless contact from educators and parents who wanted to see the bill passed. This was the first time (in my career) that we have seen the impact we can have when the pro-public education voices of Oklahoma unite.

A month later, we sweetened the pot, when voters relegated the state superintendent to a third-place finish in her own primary. Here’s my closing thought from the night that happened.

It started when we just couldn’t contain ourselves. Our murmurs grew into an eruption. We would not be silenced. We demanded respect.

I would say that was the highlight, so far, of how we can use our collective voices to change the narrative. Sure, there were some legislative seats flipped in 2016, but nothing that has come close to these two moments.

My question to you is what are you willing to do to make sure we’re not ignored this time? Are you willing to call, email, and text your legislators? Are you willing to point out that a plan to plan really isn’t a plan? Are you willing to storm the Capitol, relentlessly, from April 2 onward, and indefinitely?

There are some in the Legislature, as well as many in the cheap seats who doubt your resolve. Policies come and go. We don’t have to fight corporate interests to lobby for sensible change in that arena. Money is a different beast altogether.

As far as I can tell, two things are still true:

  1. Oklahoma’s educators will do anything for their students.
  2. We can all band together when we need to.

I hope I’m right.

Countdown: 15 Days

March 18, 2018 9 comments

Brace yourselves, friends. I think we’re in for a rough one.

In 15 days, we may witness history if teachers across the state walk off the job in protest of years of ineptitude at the Oklahoma Capitol. I know no one who wants this to happen. I’ve been in meeting after meeting with leaders in my district and meeting after meeting with leaders from across the state trying to figure out all of our contingency plans.

What about feeding kids?

What about support employees?

What about the testing window?

What about activities and student trips?

What if it lasts 5 days? 10? 20? More?

What about graduation?

Can we still have prom?

That’s a sample of the issues that we have to consider. Just the same, our board – along with many, many other school boards – has passed a resolution supporting teachers. This is their movement. While many of my superintendent friends wanted a different deadline for the looming walkout, nearly all I know were in agreement that we needed to fall in line behind what our teachers demanded.

Explaining how we got here is pretty simple. The last time the Legislature funded teacher raises was in 2008. Per-pupil funding from that time is significantly higher than it is now. Teacher and support salaries are stagnant. Class sizes are high. Textbooks are in terrible shape.

Ratchet textbooks

Courtesy: @bosticteacher

To their credit, every legislator I know understands that all of these problems are real. Most have voted in favor of one or more proposals to help. Also to be fair, many of those who have voted yes on recent revenue bills voted in favor of last year’s budget that the State Supreme Court unanimously voted to be unconstitutional. And many of the same recent education funding supporters opposed SQ 779 in 2016.

My point is that nobody passes a purity test when it comes to the quest to properly fund public education. Some of the people who voted YES on the step up plan have consistently voted for vouchers and tried to get school consolidation bills heard in the House and Senate. If you pay attention long enough, everyone will make you mad eventually.

Nor is the push for a walkout simply about pay. Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard many legislators and candidates for public office say that they’d like to see additional funding tied to reforms. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to pin any of them down on what reforms they’d like to see. I did see one survey on Facebook, sent out by a group I’d rather not name.

POE survey

Nearly every item on the survey was an insult to the professional educators I know across the state. All make nice distractions and ignore the fact that public education faced a mélange of reforms earlier this decade. A-F Report Cards. Retaining 3rd Graders. Adopting and then eliminating Common Core. Adopting new standards – again.

Going back to 2001 at the federal level, we’ve had No Child Left Behind, Achieving Classroom Excellence, tightly-constructed waivers for NCLB, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

As education advocates, we’ve fought against full-on voucher programs and for allowing parents to participate on committees that decide whether 3rd graders are retained.

The first half of this decade taught us that the Legislature includes people who will never trust educators, people who give us the credit we deserve, and a group in the middle that could lean either way. All three of these groups will always be in the Capitol. The width of each band varies after each election cycle.

During the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, public education was probably more on the defensive than at any point in the previous 20 years. Since then, more education-friendly legislators have been elected. I try not to give a legislator too much credit for one “good vote.” Or two or three. The opposite is also true. Some of the lawmakers I consider to be strong public school advocates make me want to bang my head against a desk sometimes.

Over the next few weeks, as we’re all closely watching what happens at the Capitol, I’ll dust off this blog and add a few thoughts, highlight some relevant data points, and generally try to make sense of the evolving political landscape. As always, when I’m writing here, I speak for myself. I may use an experience from my district to illustrate a point, but any opinion expressed on this blog is mine, period.

Remember the Names (part 2)

November 16, 2017 4 comments

One thing educators just love hearing is that our schools should be run more like businesses. It’s a great politician line: If schools were run more like businesses…
…we’d be able to pay all the teachers $100,000 a year. Of course, there’d only be about five teachers for every 500 students, but still…

I hate the mindset of treating either the students or the content we teach as a commodity. Our district finance offices should be run more like businesses. We have millions of dollars come in and go out every year – mostly into payroll. We want to save money and run as efficiently as possible, but not at the expense of educating children.

I do wonder, however, about one thing that would be different if we operated more like the business world. Maybe we’d be able to wine and dine our legislators and get our way. We’d be able to post record profits and still complain to lawmakers that they’re trying to bankrupt us. As it is, we can show up with a crowd of 25,000 people who support public education and have no impact.

Sky Shot

All together now!

Oil and Gas producers can show up with a few charter buses and campaign-quality signs and kill legislation. I definitely wish in that sense, that we were more like big business. Clout has its privileges.

On the other hand, nobody ever tells schools, you should operate more like the legislature. Imagine what that would look like.

I’m going to leave the Senate alone for now. They seem to be functioning on a higher level than the House during this quite Extraordinary Legislative Session.

But that House…bless them. Bless them all.

Each of the past two Wednesdays, the House has voted on a bill to finish the job of implementing a budget that should have been finalized in May. Last week, they killed HB 1054, which would have raised taxes on cigarettes, gasoline, watered-down beer, and gross production. It would have raised salaries for teachers and state employees. It had the 75% of votes needed in the Senate, but it died in the House by a vote of 71-27.

This week, however, the House approved a budget that uses some one-time money to limit cuts. This plan, HB 1019, passed with a vote of 65-25. Critical agencies will still face cuts. Higher education loses over $17 million. Health care loses $15 million, DHS $4 million, and Mental Health another $4 million.

Simply put, this budget will cost people more than their livelihoods. It will cost some their lives.

HB 1054 wasn’t perfect. It had elements that everybody found distasteful. It’s what was needed, though. Since we live in a state in which 65 passes but 71 fails, this is what we get.

If you want to read more about yesterday’s discussion in the House, check out Claudia Swisher’s blog. All I’m going to do is give you a list showing how House members voted on each bill (and a brief thought about each group). You can determine for yourself how to characterize these representatives.

You can call it a Special Session Scorecard, or maybe a twisted version of the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Perhaps it’s a Rorschach test for who funds the campaigns of each group.

Yes on both

Babinec, Baker, Caldwell, Casey, Cockroft, Echols, Fetgatter, Ford, Frix, Hall, Hilbert, Jordan, Kannady, Kerbs, Lawson, Lepak, Martinez, McCall, McDaniel, McDugle, McEntire, Montgomery, Mulready, Murdock, Newton, Ortega, Osborn, Osburn, Ownbey, Park, Pfeiffer, D. Roberts, Russ, Sanders, Sears, Taylor, Vaughan, Wallace, Watson, J. West, T. West, Wright

Total: 42 Republicans, 0 Democrats

To me, this group of people looked at HB 1054 as a massive compromise and the best we could do given the circumstances. This week, maybe they felt less hopeful and just had to vote for something to get finished. I would guess a lot of the names above have lost confidence in many of their colleagues.

No on both

Kouplen, Proctor, Stone, Williams, Murphey

Total: 1 Republican, 4 Democrats

If you’re neither looking for solutions nor draconian cuts,  I honestly don’t know how to read you.

Yes on 1054, no on 1019

F. Bennett, Blancett, Cannaday, Condit, Dollens, Dunnington, Fourkiller, Gaddis, Griffith, Hoskin, Loring, Meredith, Munson, Perryman, Renegar, Rosecrants, Tadlock, Virgin, Walke, Young, Humphrey, Thomsen

Total: 2 Republicans, 20 Democrats

Everybody who voted yes on HB 1054 sacrificed ideological purity to do so. This group didn’t feel like unclicking that button, I suppose.

No on 1054, yes on 1019

Calvey, Cleveland, Coody, Derby, Downing, Dunlap, Enns, Faught, Gann, Hardin, McBride, McEachin, Moore, O’Donnell, Ritze, S. Roberts, Strohm, Teague, K. West, R. West

Total: 20 Republicans, 0 Democrats

Well, people may die, but at least everybody’s third-quarter profits are safe.

Others

J. Bennett – missed vote on HB 1054, Yes on HB 1019
Inman, Rogers – No on HB 1054, missed vote on HB 1019
Goodwin, Lowe, Nichols, Bush, Henke, Nollan, Worthen – Yes on HB 1054, missed vote on HB 1019

***Important Note*** I’ve checked and double-checked these votes. If you find any inaccuracies, please let me know.
Vote on HB 1054
Vote on HB 1019

Remember the Names

November 11, 2017 6 comments

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
-William Butler Yeats

This week while working, many Oklahomans found distraction watching a reckless, dangerous ordeal. It was a long and twisting journey, full of surprises. You could even call it the epitome of self-sabotage. Eventually, though it had a very predictable outcome: the Legislature once again failed to meet the needs of Oklahomans.

Oh, did you think I was talking about yesterday’s high speed chase in the OKC metro? I missed that. Too many meetings.

That was one guy making a series of bad decisions that ended with him being tazed and captured. Everyone watching knew that would happen. They just didn’t know what would happen first.

The story of this mess of a state started long ago. I could begin with 1992’s State Question 640, which severely limited the ability of the Legislature in a budget crisis such as this. Or maybe with Governor Fallin’s election in 2010. Or her re-election in 2014. For the sake of time, though, I’ll begin with the budget passed by the Legislature and approved in May.

A key piece of filling this year’s budget including passing a cigarette tax fee. Well, the Legislature called it a fee, but it was pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that it was a tax.

Predictably, on August 10th, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled as such. As the Oklahoman wrote at that time:

In an opinion that drew support from every justice, the court noted that the Legislature introduced four bills this year that would have created a similar cigarette “tax,” but the bills were abandoned because of little support. In the final week of session, lawmakers finally adopted the “smoking cessation fee.”

It was unanimous.

This created a huge budget hole and the need for a special session*. For weeks, we’ve seen half-measures and insults called compromises. Finally this week, the dam broke and something appeared to happen.

Senate Vote

The Senate voted on a bill – amended to include an increase to the Gross Production Tax – that had support of a majority of House members, just not the 75% required by the Oklahoma Constitution. It received support of all Democrats and all but five Republicans: Brecheen, Dahm, Daniels, Newberry, and Sikes. No surprises there. Any of those five making a conscious choice to help others would have been shocking.

Senate leader Mike Shultz said that this was a long-time coming.

This has been a source of frustration for years. On the other hand, Shultz favored every tax cut that has contributed to the recurring budget shortfalls that have led to our legislative leaders – metaphorically, of course – spinning their wheels in the middle of a field somewhere.

Since this technically wasn’t the bill the House sent to the Senate, it had to be renamed and sent to the House Budget Committee. There we saw a preview of what was coming Wednesday.

JCAB Vote

Now called HB 1054, the budget plan passed 19-6 out of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget Committee**. Calvey and Murphy voting no was as predictable as was the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeing through the tax/fee façade. Kouplen and Proctor, not as much.

Side note: Since the start of the extraordinary session, two legislators have announced they are leaving the House. Minority Leader Scott Inman is one. Apparently, Steve Kouplen is the new pick to lead the Democrats. Based on this week, maybe they should open the process and choose someone new.

This led to Wednesday, when the House spent two hours taking questions and another hour debating HB 1054.

I tried watching the live stream, when I could. I debated with other superintendents what the final vote would be. Few of us expected it to pass. In fact, most of us thought the final number of yes votes would be even lower than 71.

House vote

I follow several journalists during the high holy extraordinary sessions. Catherine Sweeney, Dale Denwalt, and Tres Savage are some of the best. I went through their Twitter feeds today to try to recapture what happened Wednesday. Here are some examples of their work:

Ok, aside from Calvey’s dizzying logic, he makes the point that we should audit everything and find waste, fraud, and abuse. On the other hand, this is Calvey’s sixth term in the Legislature. Before he represented Deer Creek, he represented Del City. He’s one of the state’s longest-tenured lawmakers. Why hasn’t he called for these audits before? Other than casting aspersions on public employees, what has he done?

These make me sad. I don’t understand people who say they support teachers and raises for teachers and then vote no when they have a chance to do something.

Let’s face facts: the 2017 legislative session is now six months into overtime. There has been no leadership and nothing resembling a plan. It shows. Holding the vote open for another hour trying to find more votes didn’t help either.

Honestly, listening to Perryman discuss the budget bill, I thought he’d vote against it. I’ve admired him for years. He’s a true populist and a great public servant. I was having a hard time reconciling all of that.

He voted yes.

This was also a clear breaking point for some. They’d raise taxes on consumers, but not producers. It was the hardest thing for me to swallow.

If you look at the names on those vote boards – the greens in particular – you see a lot of people who expended political capital by voting yes. They are Republicans who voted for tax increases on oil and gas companies. They are Democrats who voted for regressive taxes that disproportionately impact the poor. They are people who realized that ideological purity is no substitute for leadership. You can’t govern if you expect to get your way all the time.

Speaking of Roger Ford (R – Midwest City), he’s been blowing up the Facebook world lately. He’s called out House leadership and been more or less live journaling his frustration. Here’s a sample:

To all the people saying don’t give another dime to our agencies, until after they get audited. Well bless your heart! Audits don’t happen overnight. So I guess we shut Oklahoma down for a couple years while we wait. Audits are not in the scope of this special session, so once again it’s not happening! Why can people not get that? What is so hard to understand about that?

I watched a couple no vote legislators smiling and laughing as they exited, walking right past the disabled adults in the rotunda. Never stopping to see their faces. Your life goes on, but what about them?! You changed their world and don’t give a damn.

But in fairness at least they had the decency to walk past them after they voted no. Unlike the coward that snuck in the back door, gave another representative a thumbs down motion to vote for him and immediately walked out the back door. To that young man, everything I learned about you this past year has turned out to be true. You took great joy at throwing stones at others, while you yourself was living in a glass house. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.

To the ones that held out for a higher GPT, good luck! Any GPT increase drove off with the chartered buses that were parked in front of the Capitol all day. You get 2%, you get 2% and you get 2%. Yay everyone gets 2%! If we can’t get 7, let’s take home nothing! Brilliant idea!!!

Oh yeah, that’s right. There were charter buses there. Here’s a pic.

Oil and Gas Charter Buses

Enough people – in both parties – held to their principles. As a result, people will suffer.

It’s worth noting that this vote came exactly a year after the vote on State Question 779, which would have given teachers a $5,000 raise. This teacher raise would have been just $3,000, but still, teachers had hope.

hope red

With all due respect to the Shawshank Redemption, hope is painful. Hope is thinking that when the stolen truck you’re driving breaks free from the trailer behind you that you’ll be able to elude the police cars and helicopters that surround you. I woke up believing that it might pass. After all, it passed the Senate handily. We all want the same things, right?

Unfortunately, with all the posturing, grandstanding, guest appearances, and unmoored contempt in the House, again, we watched as nothing happened.

I can’t explain the people who sided with Cleveland and Calvey. One walked around the Capitol with a fart machine. The other once threatened self-immolation. I’ll let you google which is which.

I can explain what happens now.

See what you’ve done? I agree with the governor.

You can read the impact of our state’s legislative impotence from an adoptive parent:

Nine years ago, I stepped up and took a large financial burden off the state by adopting three older, traumatized children. In turn, the State agreed to provide certain resources that were minimal to begin with and have eroded over time. More cuts will come down the road if we don’t fix our systemic budget issues very soon. It looks as though lawmakers will probably be able to stave off cataclysmic cuts for now. But short-term measures like raiding the Rainy Day fund instead of making courageous decisions are what got us into this situation in the first place. Unless lawmakers sustainably raise revenues – as voters overwhelmingly want – these near-calamities will continue, and families like mine will bear the cost.

A mother of a disabled teen tried to get answers from legislators:

“We’re concerned, we’re worried,” Jones said as she met with Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City. “My son is the client of the Goodwill adult day center in Chickasha, and our understanding is that without a fix on this current budget crisis is that it will close. They will not be able to keep their doors open and there’s nothing else for my kiddo.”As she walked the hallways late Thursday afternoon, she hoped the legislators she talked with would understand and maybe change their “no” to a “yes.”

I have to say that one representative in particular caught my attention for her remarks on Wednesday.

It’s important to remember that over the summer, House Speaker Charles McCall stripped Leslie Osborn of her JCAB chairmanship because she spoke her mind:

Osborn’s removal comes one day after she and two other Republican state representatives criticized house leadership for comments made after the Oklahoma Department of Human services announced last week it was cutting $30 million in services because of a lack of funding from the state.

The men who opposed McCall, by the way, were stripped of nothing.

This all makes me wonder why the Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature don’t change leadership and find someone committed to helping the state. Nobody is entitled to those positions for the duration of their legislative service.

Osburn is right about one thing in particular. We really must remember who voted yes and who voted no on this. I’ve seen written explanations from members of both parties. I accept none of them.

Our system of government requires serious people who know what it means to lead. It requires voters who hold them accountable.


*Technically, it’s called an Extraordinary Session. Indeed it is that.
**Speaking of government inefficiency, I love this committee name.

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