Thursday evening, I did not attend the school choice summit at Oklahoma City Community College. I registered for it. I went to it. Unfortunately, I did not get in because I had been flagged as a security risk.
It wasn’t just me. Other people I know didn’t get in, including my wife. We were told by one of the event organizers that OCCC had initiated the flagging process. Trent England had even tweeted as much the day before.
In fact, I am concerned about accuracy. That’s why my wife called the OCCC police to find out why we had been labeled as security risks. They said the event organizers had flagged us. I’ll let the event organizers and the college work out their differences on that one. It sounds complicated. Read more…
Jayden Mills, a Chickasha HS Senior, has some great thoughts on bad analogies. His post has a perfect ending! I’m glad he’s getting a great education where my parents and grandparents did.
Senator Kyle Loveless posted on Facebook, “My opinion piece in the Oklahoman about Educational freedom” attached was this article. If you’re reading this, chances are you know how I feel about Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) or vouchers.
But what really irks me about this particular post is that in his article, he compares his envisioned education market with the competitive market of the car service industry: “When my car breaks down, I don’t do business with the closest mechanic to my home. I find the mechanic who can provide the best service and repair for my money.” He goes on to say that he is “proposing legislation that allows qualified families to move their child from a public school and take up to 75 percent of the student’s funding with them.”
What I’d like to know (And I commented this on his Facebook post) is this:
Imagine that the closest mechanic…
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Year end recaps are usually trite and self-serving, so why should mine be any different? I won’t belabor the huge loss of talent that we’ve seen this year. Sure, we’ve seen the passing of Prince, Alan Rickman, John Glenn, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Sharon Jones, David Bowie, and even the guy who played Schneider on One Day at a Time. We even had three major celebrity losses (George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds) in the last week!
That’s not the talent I mean. Besides, CNN says we need to get over ourselves because it’s not even the worst year in recent memory for celebrity deaths. They have numbers and everything.
I’m talking about the ongoing talent loss in public education. Year after year, we continue to teach more students with fewer teachers. Of the teachers we have, more and more of them have entered the profession through the emergency certification route.
Five years ago, Oklahoma granted a grand total of 32 emergency certificates. Halfway through the current school year, we already have 1,082. Teachers are leaving the profession because they see a better pathway for supporting their families somewhere else. Worse yet, we don’t have very many college students picking the profession to begin with.
We continue to have budget problems. Our Legislature had to fix a $610 million budget hole in Fiscal Year 2016 (2015-16). They had a $1.3 BILLION shortfall in FY 17. As they set to work on the FY 18 budget, they will begin with an $870 million deficit.
Knowing that any prospect of significant teacher raises died November 8th with the defeat of SQ 779, teachers who have options will spend the spring looking elsewhere for opportunities. Some will look to other careers. Some will look to other states.
The exodus isn’t beginning because of the election. It’s continuing. It may even be accelerating. Even Texas newspapers are noticing. The Dallas Morning News piggybacked on a Tulsa World article in August about one such move: LeAnna Snyder moving from Tulsa to Grand Prairie for a $20,000 raise. She cited the fact that her own children are about to enter college and she just had to do more for them. It’s more than the money, though:
“Yes, I’m getting a raise of almost $20,000 — and that’s a big help to my family, especially with two kids about to be in college. But it’s not just salary,” said Snyder. “It’s retirement, it’s class size, it’s supplies. It’s about kindness and respect. When you walk into that building in Texas, it’s clean, it’s not old, it’s sharp-looking. It felt safe.”
It’s not just Texas, either. Snyder could have crossed the Kansas or Arkansas borders for raises as well.
In fact, all the states that border Oklahoma have higher average salaries than we do.
We still have legislators and policy groups who dispute those figures. We even have teachers who do. Remember that when you see an average teacher’s salary figure, though, that you’re looking at salary, insurance, and retirement – not just taxable income. Also remember that those are the same numbers used for other states.
State support for public education has been trending downward for a long time. According to data from the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (OEQA), from FY 2000 to FY 2015, the state share of school funding dropped from 57.3% to 47.7%.
|Fiscal Year||Local Share||State Share||Federal Share|
*In 2010, federal stimulus funds supplemented state aid.
Another way to look at this is to place state funding for education side-by-side with public school enrollment growth, as KOSU has done. For FY 08, the Legislature appropriated $2.53 billion for common education. The amount dropped the next three years and then increased the following three years before dropping again this year.
As it stands, funding is $100 million lower than it was eight years ago, but enrollment is nearly 50,000 students higher. It’s also worth mentioning that 2016 dollars have less buying power than 2008 dollars. Fortunately, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has calculated the extent of Oklahoma’s per pupil cuts, adjusting for inflation.
Per pupil state funding in Oklahoma is down nearly a quarter since 2008. That’s the worst figure in the country. Sure, we’ve seen a downturn in energy sector of our economy, but it hasn’t hit all the states that produce oil and gas as hard as it has hit us.
North Dakota is another oil producing state, and they lead the nation in per pupil funding increases. They’re even adding to their equivalent of our Rainy Day Fund as we have all but shaken the last coin from our piggy bank. I don’t want to model everything we do after North Dakota – they’ve had a pretty rough time the last few months with DAPL, you know – I just want to live in a state with sound fiscal planning. And I don’t want to move.
Part of our state’s problem is that we give too many tax breaks without getting anything in return. The 2016 version of the Legislature fought this travesty head on – by eliminating the Oklahoma Earned Income Credit. This was, in essence, a tax increase on the state’s poorest citizens. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same politicians used that reasoning for opposing the penny sales tax.
For more than a decade, we’ve seen declining tax revenues in Oklahoma. Some of this is due to policy decisions; some is due to oil prices. Due to cuts to income taxes alone, the state has lost over $1 billion in revenue since 2008. I know, you want to keep more of what you earn. So do I. We’re not the ones benefitting from these tax cuts, however.
If you’re making what an average school teacher in Oklahoma makes, your cut was about $29. Actually, it was less. Your taxable income is less than the $47,500 listed in that table.
Pretty much every state agency has seen funding cuts during the current cycle of budget woes. Meanwhile, working Oklahomans haven’t seen game changing tax breaks.
Oil companies have, though. We continue giving tax breaks all over the place to them, though.
Similar to what we’ve done in Oklahoma, North Dakota has reduced property and income tax rates. They’ve continued to tax drilling, though.
Apparently, we’re going to dig out of this hole by taxing haircuts, tattoos, and cigarettes. Twice, in fact, since the end of the legislative session in May, I’ve met with Republican legislators who blame Democrats for not supporting a cigarette tax proposal that they think would have raised $150 million annually. I reminded both that Republicans have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, and that they also hold the governor’s mansion.
After November 8th, Republicans now hold even wider margins in both chambers of the Legislature. They have a 75-26 advantage in the House and a 42-6 gap in the Senate. Republican unity would seem to be a bigger issue than courting Democrats to their side. Hopefully, many of the newly elected legislators will be as education friendly as they’ve sounded.
Of course, we also have distractions. Days before the election, the state superintendent was indicted for alleged violations of state campaign laws. Interestingly, the charges were filed at the end of absentee ballot voting and at the beginning of early voting. Do I think that made a difference?
|Absentee||Early Voting||Election Day||Total|
Yeah, I think it made a difference. Before the indictment, Yes on 779 had a slim margin. After the indictment, it was No in a landslide. Are the charges against Superintendent Hofmeister valid? I’m not a lawyer or a judge. Out of thousands of pages of evidence that were reviewed, we’ve only seen a 32 page complaint by the district attorney’s office. We haven’t seen or heard defense arguments yet. A lot can happen between here and there. The timing (on allegations that were 17 months old) definitely stung, though.
We also have the distraction of what appears to be a hush hush settlement orchestrated by the former Speaker of the House. In case you’ve missed the drama over the last couple of weeks, I’ll let the Oklahoman sum it up for you:
A fired legislative assistant and her attorneys were secretly paid $44,500 in state funds in November to settle her sexual harassment complaint against a state representative from Tulsa, records show.
Hollie Anne Bishop, 28, complained Rep. Dan Kirby, 58, began sexually harassing her shortly after she started working for him in January 2015. She complained she was fired without explanation on Nov. 20, 2015, in retaliation for reporting the harassment.
She accepted a $28,414.20 payment, online records show. Her Edmond attorneys accepted a $16,085.80 payment.
The payments appear to have come from taxpayer funds meant to operate the state House of Representatives. The payments were made Nov. 22 after Kirby, a Republican, won re-election, the records show.
Keep in mind that while education and every other function of state government saw a cut in funding, the Legislature increased its own operational budget by 183% for FY 17. Surely this isn’t why, is it?
It’s also worth noting that Kirby won his re-election on November 8th –two weeks before the settlement was paid. Is that timing also fishy? Of course it is.
Since the revelation of this settlement before Christmas, Kirby has resigned, we have learned that outgoing Speaker Jeff Hickman was instrumental in lining up the settlement, Kirby has rescinded his resignation, and that new Speaker Charles McCall wants to investigate the whole thing.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Scott Pruitt is headed to the Trump administration, the incoming Secretary of Education does not appear to have ever set foot in a public school, and – oh yeah! – we still have nearly a billion dollar hole to fill.
I don’t envy the task our legislators have. Some who are well-meaning engage with public education advocates on social media quite effectively. Others shut down quickly and lament that they are tired of hearing us complain without offering any solutions. I have two things to say to that:
- You ran for office. Aren’t you supposed to have some ideas?
- We’ve been giving you our ideas for the last several years now. Do we need to list them again?
In the past few years, the Legislature has listened to us on non-revenue issues. They added parents to the third-grade reading committee. They authorized changes to A-F Report Cards. They passed new academic standards. They eliminated End of Instruction tests and simplified teacher evaluations too. Year after year, they’ve even turned back voucher bills.
I know that most of our legislators listen to us. We just can’t seem to get anywhere with funding.
In spite of all of this, I’m going to remain hopeful.
We have 700,000 public education students to teach in this state. More than 14,000 of those are in my district alone. I even still have one in my household. Public education continues to be a bargain for taxpayers and a building block for citizenship. In spite of the challenges – both for funding and respect – I see great things every day in our schools. Even the teachers who are looking for an exit come to work and try to make an impact every day.
We have new and returning legislators who need to continue hearing from us. They need to know what our struggles look like. They need to see faces. They need to hear our opinions about everything from funding to vouchers to accountability. We owe them that. We should call them, and they should call us.
2016 is gone, and good riddance to it. Bring on 2017, come what may.
As November comes to a close, and our newly-elected Legislature begins its charge of finding a way to close yet another budget hole, some among their ranks want to focus on a task that misses the mark entirely.
Yes, instead of finding funds for public schools, Sen. Kyle Loveless is busy trying to find funds for private schools. He’s spent his entire first senate term on this task, and it looks as if his second will be no different.
I’ll give Loveless credit for one thing: he puts himself out there. You don’t really wonder where he stands. He loves to bait people, and for some of us, responding is a compulsion.
Judge if you want; I know I should walk away.
I hate the term school choice, mainly because it’s inaccurate. It’s a euphemism. It’s a voucher that people can apply towards private school tuition if either (a) they can afford the remainder of the tuition, or (b) the school chooses to waive the remainder of the tuition. It’s not choice because the school doesn’t have to accept the bedraggled child that Loveless and his ilk choose they want to save from the failing public education system they turn around and claim to want to help.
As to my friend Kenny Ward’s point on Loveless’s post that the poll has some bias because the pollster hates public education, well there’s some truth to that.
That was me trolling his Twitter feed yesterday. Then Bill Shapard, Jr. lashed out at the lot of us.
Look, guys! We’re number one! We even published an article about it one time!
Yeah, well #oklaed is number one too. In budget cuts, that is. It must be true. It was in the Oklahoman.
Oklahoma’s cuts to general education funding since 2008 continue to lead the nation, according to the latest report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Nearly 27 percent of state per pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, has been cut since 2008. That figure not only leads the nation but is nearly double the percentage of cuts made by Alabama, the second worst state for educating funding reductions.
Shapard feels the compulsion as well, I guess. He keeps attacking Tyler Bridges, Ward, and me.
Yes, he says he wants to open 12 Corn Bible Academy type schools in Clinton, and he compares public education to a wiener factory. That’s the guy running Sooner Poll. That’s the guy who claims his work is not reflective of his bias.
Maybe looking at the polling language would be instructive, then.
“Educational choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Some people favor educational choice because they believe that parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Other people oppose educational choice because they believe it drains money from public schools and allows only a select few students to choose a different school. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?”
FAVOR — parents have the moral right to choose … 51.5%
OPPOSE — it drains money from public schools … 37.3%
UNDECIDED … 11.2%
First of all, the question compares two things. It should read, “Which viewpoint comes closer to your own.” As long as it’s an education question, a basic grasp of middle school grammar would be nice.
More importantly, the question is poorly worded. Whether that indicates bias or not is another question, but look at the two choices. Parents have the moral right to choose, and it drains money from public schools. Are those options mutually exclusive? Can’t a voucher be a moral right that also hurts the public schools?
It’s also incomplete information. I oppose vouchers for a number of reasons. As I said above, the number one reason is that the private school doesn’t have to accept any kid who shows up with a state aid check in hand. Yes, vouchers will deplete school funding. Yes, vouchers will go to schools that don’t face the same accountability measures as public schools. Yes…actually, if you want a great top ten list of reasons why vouchers are a bad idea, Steven Singer has a great one put together already.
I also question the phrase public or private school which best serves their needs. As Tyler Bridges stated in his response to Shapard this morning on Facebook:
Out of respect for many that I know at CBA I will not speak to their school, as they have great things going on and have great people out there. That being said, using their 1:7 ratio of staff to students, their very small student body, as well as their student makeup, is hardly a quality comparison Bill. My question would be this: if CBA took a representative sample of 100 students (which would more than double their enrollment) from Clinton PS (83% free/reduced, 15% poverty, 35% bilingual, 23% ELL) do you feel they are so much better at providing a quality education that they would continue to turn out the same product as they do now?
Private schools don’t face the number of variables that public schools do. Our students’ situations are often unpredictable. Shapard may be convinced that 12 schools like Corn Bible Academy in Clinton could do a better job than Clinton Public Schools do. According to CBA’s website, they serve about 80 students. Clinton has over 2,300 students. I’m not a statistician, like Bill Shapard, but I think it would take more than 12 CBAs to meet the need of Clinton’s students.
But I digress.
Shapard’s poll question puts the two options on unequal footing. He gives one moral standing. He gives the other a fiscal outcome. Wording matters, and he knows it. Just because a few hundred people who still answer their land lines pick (a) over (b) doesn’t mean it’s good public policy.
One positive thing about Loveless feeling he must constantly twist the fork in the back of public education is that we also see a clear illustration from those who hate public education about the toxic narrative they love to spew. Here are some examples of comments (with names removed) from Loveless’s post yesterday:
- if everyone gets there 7-9 grand per year, the market will fill the need. Catholic schools have been doing it for 70% less for decades in the inner cities. And outperforming public schools substantially.
- We’re not talking Heritage Hall and Casady. Go to any large city in the US and compare inner city Catholic schools with the public schools- they take anyone.
- Let’s just cowboy up and admit that it is about the folks who work in education not wanting to admit that the system is failing but nobody wants to lose their job. For once, let’s just stop saying it’s about the kids…heard that for decades- it ain’t.
- Believing that tax paying parents should have a choice in how their money is spent on their child’s education is not “hell-bent on destroying public education”. It’s actually the exact opposite.
I don’t know the cost of Oklahoma’s Catholic schools, but I do know the cost of attending any private school is two-fold: tuition and donations. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that tuition alone doesn’t fully fund private schools. They rely heavily on donations. If they start filling up with students attending on vouchers, their donations will decrease. The families using a voucher aren’t going to have the deep pockets their traditional students have.
And yes, I’m certain that we’re probably not talking about Casady and Heritage Hall. That helps prove my point though. No amount of politics and wordsmithing truly grants parents the choice of where to enroll their children.
I challenged the commenter who wants us to cowboy up to come into any of the Mid-Del Schools (after passing a mandatory background check) and tell all the staff that why they come to work is not about the kids. Crickets.
As for the last comment, we don’t all contribute the same amount. Whether it’s income tax, property tax, motor vehicle tax, or any other state revenue source, all of our contributions look different. Thus what we pay into the tax base that funds public education is different. We don’t get rebates for the services we don’t use. I haven’t needed the assistance of a highway patrolman for years (no matter what the one I met a couple of weeks ago thought). Still, I don’t get a rebate for not using their services. I also don’t get to re-allocate those funds elsewhere. That’s not how any state function works.
I’ve said for as long as I’ve thought about such things that I don’t care if you homeschool your kids or send them to private schools. That’s your choice. It may be the best thing for your kid. It’s not for me to decide. I just don’t think the money should follow the child. My business is managing the district’s resources for the kids we have now and the kids we’ll have in the future. Since about 90% of our budget goes to payroll, the vast majority of the investment is in the kids we have right now.
Loveless posted another article from Choice Remarks on his Facebook page last night. This one was titled “Nearly 4 in 10 Oklahoma teachers would choose private or home education for their own children.” One of my good friends, Pam Huston (a principal in Moore) posted the same article on Facebook, but with some major shade.
Above the article, she wrote:
This article could also be titled, ‘Over 65% of teachers surveyed agree that public charter schools are the least, or second to the least, favorable option for their own children.” It’s all in how the results are spun……results are posted in the comments below.
Below are the results:
These are teachers responding. Of the four choices, teachers have public schools ranked one or two nearly 80% of the time. I think these results are basically a Rorschach Test. You see what you want to see. Yes, some teachers would love to put their kids in another school setting. Some teachers wish they could be home educating their children. I see no problem with that.
Choice Remarks is one of the many offshoots of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). On a post-election blog, school choice kingpin Brandon Dutcher further discusses the argument for vouchers.
As we approach 2017, the taxpaying parents of 100,000 Oklahoma students, despite being compelled to pay for public education, have in effect said to public school officials: “Your product is sufficiently unattractive to us that you can’t even give it away.” Moreover, Oklahoma has enacted a private-school voucher program and a tax-credit scholarship program. And as we move ever closer to Rod Paige’s vision of universal school choice—by expanding our current programs, enacting ESAs, providing for individual tax credits, and more—I suspect the vindictive resentment will grow.
Dutcher fails to note, then, that 700,000 students remain in public schools. If the 100,000 are dissatisfied, then the 700,000 must be content, right? Of course not. Neither of those assumptions are necessarily valid.
As for the vindictive resentment, yeah, it’ll grow. Keep characterizing public schools as failures, and we’ll resent you. Keep scheming ways to further deplete school funding, and we’ll resent you. Keep using poor measures of school effectiveness and ignoring the effects of poverty on learning, and we’ll resent you. This is no surprise. I won’t shy away from it. I doubt my blogging peers will either. I’ll keep saying, I’m sorry you’re upset, and you’ll probably keep saying the same thing. Neither of us will mean it.
The charge of the choice brigade approaches. Soon, it will have a new standard bearer: future Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking her up, but Rob Miller has:
For the past 15 years, DeVo$ has used her family money and influence to push an agenda to transfer public tax dollars over to unaccountable for-profit corporations. We know she will promote education savings accounts (ESAs) and other vouchers schemes and that she will work to funnel public money to church-sponsored schools.
To steal from the latest Geico commercials, “it’s what she does.”
If you recall, Bet$y DeVo$ has spent the past few years serving as the Chairman of the American Federation for Children (AFC), an organization which has as its vision “the transformation of public education by breaking down barriers to educational choice.”
Among other political activities, AFC has worked in the shadows to fund the legislative campaigns of hundreds of school-choice proponents across the nation. In recent years, they were the ones who contributed to the successful Oklahoma mudslinging campaigns against Melissa Abdo in 2014 and Lisa Kramer this year, just to name a few.
With the head of the Amway empire running education, we won’t just be getting school choice; we’ll be getting a voucher pyramid scheme extraordinaire!
People like Loveless will sidle up to everything ALEC, OCPA, Choice Remarks, Sooner Poll, and the like throw out there. Because he won re-election in June and didn’t have to run a general election race, he has had a five month head start on trolling public education.
Meanwhile, others in the Legislature are busy trying to craft a budget to help all state agencies. Some even want to fund public schools, rather than finding ways to fund private ones.
November 8th was a disappointment for many of us in the #oklaed community. I get that. Nonetheless, we must keep fighting. If we don’t, the future is easy to predict.
Who spends their Spring Break walking the halls of the Capitol and talking with their legislators? Today, it was a few hundred of my closest friends.
While there weren’t many legislators around, we had plenty to discuss with those we found. We were thankful of their bill to provide Rainy Day Funds to schools (and prisons), and we let them know that we supported several bills they’ve advanced so far this session. Overall, I felt proud that so many students, parents, teachers, and administrators showed up on a beautiful day to talk to elected leaders about education. Why shouldn’t that make us feel good? We didn’t all hear the things we wanted to hear, but most of the legislators we met with were happy to see us. Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman even saved his last donut for me.
As great as today was, two things have me feeling uneasy.
1. The fight over the standards has just begun.
This should be settled. Oklahoma educators (PK-12 and Higher Ed) have worked for over a year on these. They’ve been critiqued. They’ve been vetted. Superintendent Hofmeister presented to the Legislature on the first day of session. Now, just a few days after voucher bills died in both chambers, Speaker Hickman and Senator Brecheen have introduced a total of three joint resolutions to disapprove of or continue amending the standards. Today, they even brought in two out-of-state experts to tell us why what Oklahomans have written isn’t good enough.
To me, the timing is suspicious. Why wait until now? With no action at all, the standards would have automatically been enacted next week. For months, fringe groups (people who do nothing but complain about public schools and encourage parents to pull their children out of them) have been calling the new math and English/language arts standards simply derivative of the Common Core that our state rejected two years ago. Nothing in the standards would have made them say anything different.
On KFOR this afternoon, I saw a clip from the meeting. One of the experts, Dr. Larry Gray, advised against approving the math standards. In the clip of his testimony, he expressed concern that a substitute teacher would not know what to teach just from reading the standards. While I’m sure this wasn’t representative of his entire testimony, this really isn’t how substitute lesson plans work. Teachers don’t leave a list of standards for a substitute; they leave assignments, preferably with detailed instructions. If they are minute-by-minute plans, even better.
Last summer, Oklahoma responded to a list of Gray’s concerns, and did so very transparently. The SDE’s record of changes made based on his suggestions is on their website .
On the English/Language Arts side, Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky also is recommending changes. For one, she wants the state to list works of literature that are appropriate for each grade level. She has also called the standards “empty.” It’s worth noting that in 2014, when the legislature passed HB 3399, one of the stipulations was that there not be a literature list. This is better left to local control. It’s also worth noting that Stotsky’s most recent book is titled, An Empty Curriculum.
The Legislature asked for Oklahoma standards to be written by Oklahomans based on Oklahoma values. Dozens of Oklahomans have worked diligently to make that happen. Now, a few disgruntled legislators want to throw that work out and leave it to professors from out-of-state.
This process has been thorough and public. The SDE has published the name of the math and ELA standards writing teams. The presentation of the standards to the State Board of Education is available online. They have been approved by the SBE and the State Regents. Dr. Frank Wang, President of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math has given the standards his approval. If you want out-of-state validation, they have also been approved by the Southern Regional Education Board. The SDE has more than 60 letters of support for the standards in all.
If you want to read the texts of the three resolutions, feel free:
Six weeks have come and gone. There’s nothing like the last minute to decide you want to ask a few questions. What we don’t need is to turn the remainder of the process over to out-of-state experts (and I don’t question their credentials at all, by the way). That would be a waste of precious time and an unconscionable use of Oklahoma money that we simply don’t have.
Nobody will like everything that went into the final draft. If you put 20 third-grade teachers in a room and asked them to agree on essential math skills for their students, you’d find some common ground, but a considerable amount of disagreement. And that’s just the standards. Now try to get them to agree on how these skills should be taught or assessed, and you have a bigger battle on hand.
2. The voucher fight isn’t over.
I know, we partied like it was 1989 (when we were fighting for HB 1017) last week when neither the House nor the Senate advanced their voucher bills. That was probably a bit premature. How else do you explain this video, released today by The Daily Signal, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation?
Yes, that’s our governor explaining why Education Savings Accounts are so good – on camera with a conservative think tank. The big money rolling into Oklahoma to fight for vouchers won’t stop now, just because we’ve become the “strongest lobby at the state Capitol” (unconfirmed). There’s still time for a May surprise. Just don’t be surprised.
In case you missed it – and I don’t know how you could have – both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature failed to advance voucher bills last week. Since they did, those specific bills are dead. Well, they’re dead-ish. Language can jump from bill to bill. One piece of legislation that passes in committee can be replaced with a floor substitute. It happens all the time. Still, the fact that our state’s Republican leadership couldn’t get SB 609 and HB 2949 to go anywhere is a huge development.
Pro-voucher and anti-voucher groups were at the Capitol in full force the last couple of weeks. Both sides tracked vote counts by the day, then by the hour, and finally by the minute. As of Thursday morning, I heard that SB 609 was dead. By lunch, I heard that Senator Jolley was fervently whipping his caucus behind closed doors for the votes he needed to get his measure over the top. I heard lots of things. I assume people following the legislation on both sides did as well.
With the issue being as heated as it was, disappointment was inevitable. Several responses caught my attention, but one in particular has taken on its own life force – a radio interview between Chad Alexander and State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger. As reported on the McCarville Report, Doerflinger’s angst was flung far and wide:
Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger says he is “blown away” and “embarrassed” to be a Republican, that many in the Republican Legislature “should put Ds after their names” and that Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister “is a D in Republican clothes.”
I didn’t really have the time or inclination to blog Friday when this happened, so I wrote a note on my Facebook page:
If anyone knows fiscal impact statements that are “less than accurate,” it’s Doerflinger, the architect of this year’s “flat” budget.
As for the D/R thing, nobody should have to check every box to belong to a political party. I want to elect people who think for themselves and listen to their constituents. I don’t want to elect people who are beholden to either party. That’s why I vote for people from each.
Nobody is a perfect match for my political views. Nor is there a perfect match for yours.
We vote for people. None of us get our way all the time. Some of us just don’t have tantrums on the air in front of an audience of dozens of listeners afterward, though.
That post went viral on its own, and spurred some great comments. Then, while I was watching two Mid-Del basketball teams win state championships yesterday, something amazing happened on Twitter. I don’t know who started it, but Republicans from around the state began tweeting messages at both Governor Fallin and Doerflinger. Here are a few examples.
Some were fairly creative, even.
And of course, Blue Cereal went Blue Cereal with it.
Dallas, this is why we love you. And maybe why –as you put it at EdCamp –they “hate” us.
Another tweet sums up the problem with Doerflinger’s logic quite well.
That pretty much sums it up.
In the last 22 hours, I count well over 150 tweets tagged as #PrestonDoerflinger. Surprisingly, he’s not an active user of Twitter, and that’s just a shame.
One elected leader who is active on social media and usually engages with #oklaed in lively debate is State Senator Kyle Loveless. Friday, he seemed to defend Doerflinger, using logic that escapes me.
Oh, so it’s in the platform. Does that mean that every Republican has to support everything that’s in the platform? This leads to an interesting sidebar conversation.
I’ve never been elected to anything, but I imagine for legislators, voting on a particular issue involves some complex thinking. On one hand, you believe what you believe. So what do you do when you are slammed with phone calls from your constituents who want you to do something else? That’s who you represent. Unless changing your position is in direct conflict with your moral compass, you should have some flexibility, right?
Ok, well what if you agree with your constituents, but not with the party? Since this state has an overwhelming Republican majority, should we just let national GOP chairman Reince Priebus write our laws for us? Should every vote in the House and Senate fall along party lines? Of course not. It’s a ridiculous notion.
When I vote, nothing matters less to me than party affiliation. In state elections, #oklaed is my priority. When I think about who we send to Washington, I think a little differently. Neither party has impressed me over the last 16 years when it comes to education policy on a national scale.
What if, as Doerflinger suggests, the voucher vote (or non-vote, in this case) is the litmus test for our elected leaders? If all who kept these bills from coming to the floor last week changed parties, we’d have Democrats in control of both chambers again. I think Speaker Inman (theoretically, of course) would love that opportunity.
Most of us don’t believe in –isms.
We vote based on how we think.As I said above, I’ve never been a good fit for either party. I just can’t check all the boxes.
For the record, Doerflinger wasn’t the only voucher supporter to express frustration last week. Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, not only showed his disappointment, but actually gave #oklaed a huge back-handed compliment.
These two bills were not heard today because the strongest lobby at the state Capitol is now the public education lobby. Too often, this group has emphasized the dollar value associated with keeping children in seats in public schools, rather than allowing the children’s parents to have greater options for meeting their children’s unique needs.
That’s funny. I was at the Capitol for an hour on Tuesday, but I saw Small and other OCPA staff camped out waiting for legislators to pressure. Besides, if you look at the preponderance of education policy in this state, it’s hard to argue that the public education lobby has consistently moved the needle. In 2011 alone, at the request of Governor Fallin and the previous state superintendent, the legislature gave us A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurements among a host of Florida-styled education reforms.
Since then, #oklaed has had our moments.
In May 2014, we kept the pressure on the Legislature to override the governor’s veto of HB 2625, which added parents to the promotion committee for third graders. The combined vote was 124-19. Both the House and Senate voted without any debate.
The next month, as you well know, we helped fire Janet Barresi, who finished third in her primary.
We raised awareness about misguided legislation that would have ended AP US History.
We helped keep vouchers from passing: last year and this year.
When we are focused and on message, we really do have influence. Most of us have jobs, though. Unlike voucher supporters, we can’t just camp out at the Capitol all day. We can stop in briefly, before or after meetings. We can energize parents and teachers to call. And yes, we do have lobbyists. But I doubt anyone really thinks we have the consistent money and influence at the Capitol that OCPA and their corporate overlords do.
I can tell you that the two people who represent me personally in Norman and the nine people who represent the Mid-Del school district in the Legislature listen to their voters. I can’t tell you how these ten men and women (Senator Rob Standridge represents me at home and my district) would have voted if the bills had been heard on the floor. I think for some who philosophically support vouchers, the feedback from constituents was a game changer.
If there are any legislators who truly want to harm public education, their numbers are small. That is evident by the agreement by Fallin and the Legislature to help public schools deal with some of this year’s budget shortfall. It’s evident by the good legislation that has moved forward so far.
On the other hand, there will always be some who want to find a way to thumb their noses at public education. Whether they think we’re all a bunch of heathens corrupting children, or they just think we’re too powerful, they are always looking to fight.
That’s fine. I’m willing to fight, but I’d rather just teach the kids.
I’m a parent. I’m an educator. I’m a life-long Oklahoman, and I oppose ESAs. Most importantly, I vote.
Late this afternoon, Senate President Bingman and House Speaker Hickman announced jointly that the two voucher bills would not be heard today. In effect, this kills both bills for the remainder of this legislative session.
The Education Savings Account bills in the Senate and House of Representatives would have allowed parents to use a portion of the state dollars used for their child’s public school education to pay for private school tuition or home schooling. But the bills apparently didn’t have enough backing to even bother bringing it up for a vote.
“Honestly I don’t think they had the votes to pass it,” said Sen. Brian Bingman (R) President Pro Tempore.
On the Senate side, sources told News 9 that 29 of 50 senators planned to vote against the bill.
“I think a lot of the concern would be the economy,” said Bingham, “with education and everyone taking cuts. A lot of people that might be in favor of it philosophically, just the environment probably not conducive to, in their opinion, passing that bill.”
In the House of Representatives sources said there were more than 60 lawmakers that opposed the bill including every democrat.
“Thousands of families, parents and teachers have e-mailed and called their representatives and senators for the last several weeks telling them they did not want vouchers to pull money away from public schools at a time when they desperately need it,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader, “And their voices were heard.”
This doesn’t mean that legislators don’t have tricks at their disposal to make vouchers magically reappear at a later date. I think it’s unlikely for now, though – at least until after the candidate filing period in April.
Not only are vouchers bad public policy; they are also a distraction from the serious work to which our Legislature needs to attend. When I visited the Capitol Tuesday, I talked to a few legislators and several assistants in their offices. Most are more worried about helping school districts with funding than with fringe issues such as this.
Well, maybe not this guy.
Yes, Paul Wesselhoft, a term-limited legislator from the Moore area called the lack of a vote on vouchers “a disgusting development” and quickly chalked it up to the “educational establishment.” Quick – where’s my score pad?
Actually, this isn’t the time to keep score. Funding needs to be the focus. Sure, there are still education bills moving forward. Some are good, such as HB 2957 and SB 1170. And some are lousy, like SB 1187. We’ll get to that later. For now, we need to focus on keeping good teachers in the classroom.
The people who want to lambast public education – people like Wesselhoft – will never see the good in our schools. That’s fine. We can find better people to represent us.
For now, just know that the voices of #oklaed have made a difference.