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Posts Tagged ‘#OKElections16’

Reason #6 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: The Veep Thing

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine six days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?

Last night in Bixby, I ran into two friends who told me they’re really enjoying my countdown to the primaries. They had one complaint. It’s not funny enough. Well if the premise of the #6 Reason doesn’t make you laugh, at least uncomfortably, then you just don’t get my sense of humor. Besides, I’m not The Lost Ogle, but you should read their thoughts on State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger from earlier today. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

I know what I said in yesterday’s post. The presidential race doesn’t matter. Well, it does, but that’s no reason to check out mentally when it comes to our local races. Who we send to the Capitol really does matter more in our daily lives.

T and F 4 ever

A fellow #oklaed blogger recently went campaigning for a state senate candidate. He estimated that only about one of every four people he met knew who their state senator was. That’s bad. That’s really bad.

I wonder, then, what percentage would know who our lieutenant governor is.

Let yourself imagine, for a minute, that Donald Trump actually picks Mary Fallin to be his running mate. And let’s imagine they win. Who is Oklahoma’s governor now?

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This guy  Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb

I don’t know much about Todd Lamb. His campaign website doesn’t provide too many specific policy positions. It’s mainly just the vague things you need to say to get elected in a state with a preponderance of straight party voting:

Todd knows that state government must limit itself and allow Oklahoma job-creators to do what they do best: provide Oklahomans the chance to work hard and raise a family.

While government cannot legislate morality, it can create a framework that promotes the values we hold dear. Government should encourage work and the self-worth that comes with it. We must show compassion and recognize needs among us, but do so without creating dependency.

As a special agent, I traveled the world and regularly worked with hundreds of local and state law enforcement groups. None compare to the Oklahoma State Troopers. They are underpaid, and I remain fully committed to ensuring the men and women putting their lives on the line to protect Oklahoma families are fairly compensated.

See? He’s just saying nice things, that he certainly means. They just aren’t specific policy proposals. It’s what politicians do when they’re just biding their time, sort of like the Bull Durham mindset on speaking to the media. Don’t say anything that could hurt the team.

And so it’s gone for most of the last six years. You can’t find too much out there that Todd Lamb has said about public education.

It’s one thing to make a campaign statement. It’s much more to actually govern, to do something and to have a vision. It’s time to act and give parents more choices.

Hmm…we should probably talk about that.

What we do know about Todd Lamb is that he’s pro-voucher. That’s one of the big ones. Our current governor is also pro-voucher. Not all Republicans are, however. That’s why the House voucher bill needed the speaker and speaker pro tem to cast their vote to save it in committee this year. That’s why a handful of Republicans erupted furiously when neither legislative chamber would take a bill to the floor for a vote. Vouchers are a public education litmus test on both sides.

Vouchers were a policy priority of Janet Barresi. They remain a priority of Governor Fallin. A theoretical Governor Lamb would continue pursuing them. What we don’t know, however, is whether he’d be more effective at enacting his ideas (and by ideas, I mean bills written by ALEC and supported by the Friedman Foundation).

That’s why we need legislators who understand the harm in such policies. That’s why some of my friends in advocacy have been working on their lists and profiles.

Oklahomans For Public Education

Blue Cereal Education

Fourth Generation Teacher

There are gaps and oversights. There are warnings that we can’t spell out in big enough flashing lights for people who neither support our kids nor our institutions.

The main thing is to be informed. Know who represents you. Vote. Whether your choice wins or not, get to know the person going to the Capitol from your area. Build the relationship and do something with it. We need to elect people who will push back against whoever drives bad education policy from the Governor’s Mansion.

Reason #7 to vote #oklaed in #OKElections16: This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine six days until the primaries this year, I’m writing a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on our action.

10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.

We pay a lot of attention in this country to our presidential candidates. We should; the winner gets the title of leader of the free world for four years. The president gets to pick Supreme Court justices, insuring his or her legacy for years after leaving office. Globally, the president is the face of the nation.

In Oklahoma, Republicans picked Ted Cruz and Democrats picked Bernie Sanders to lead their parties forward. Instead, we will choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as well as some off-brand candidates. Think of them as the RC Cola of politics.

5-stages-of-grief

Nobody I’ve talked to is excited about either candidate, but it seems most of my friends seem to have made it through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief. Now they’re interested in the short list of vice-presidential picks for both parties.

Unless what we’re hearing is true, and Governor Fallin could be plucked from our very midst, the presidential race has exactly zero impact on public education in Oklahoma.

Neither party has a good track record recently with public school policy. No Child Left Behind was a bi-partisan law. The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gave more control to the states to enact policy, but I still feel like I’m 15 again, taking Driver’s Education, knowing that my instructor could slam the brakes from the passenger side at any time. They loosened a few strings, but the strings are still attached. Again, ESSA was a bi-partisan effort.

The president (and Congress for that matter) aren’t going to fix the state’s economy. They aren’t going to decide if our tax rates increase, decrease, or stay where they are. They aren’t going to vote on the Penny Sales Tax initiative. They aren’t going to challenge the fact that Oklahoma eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit for poor families (because we’re basically giving them breaks on taxes they didn’t pay anyway) while doing nothing about tax credits for companies that essentially aren’t paying taxes either.

Groundhog_Day_Puddle

Nor will the next president weigh in on Oklahoma’s next round of voucher bills, which are as certain to come as Groundhog Day. In February, when we have a newly seated Legislature, they will passionately discuss school district consolidation, deregulation, textbook money, testing, revenue streams, the funding formula, ways to call taxes anything besides what they really are, how to count to 100 working days, academic standards, or charter schools. And when they discuss these things, the new president will still be selecting his or her new cabinet.

I’m not saying the presidential election isn’t important. Of course it is. We want to be proud of our next leader, but I think most of us can agree that we’re all past that feeling. So what’s on the undercard?

I’m an education voter. That doesn’t mean that the other issues don’t matter to me. I have opinions on a number of issues, but some are fringe social causes over which Oklahoma has no authority to move the needle. I care about the well-being of the people in this state, first and foremost. I want leaders who aren’t beholden to ALEC, OCPA, or the Wallyworld Foundation.* I want leaders who represent their constituents, not their parties.

I want a Legislature full of rational, critical, and respectful representatives and senators who can discuss this state’s most important issues without resulting to demagoguery and fear-mongering. Again, leave that to the presidential candidates.

And yes, I want candidates who truly support a strong public education system. We know that public schools serve nearly 700,000 students in this state. The system has to be healthy to serve those children well. The people working in the system deserve to feel respected by the state. They should also be able to support their families with what they make.

What I’m trying to say is that the people we elect to the Legislature impact our day-to-day lives much more than the people we elect to the White House do. We should be more invested in these races than we are in the big one.

 

*name changed to protect the over-sensitive

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Reasons to vote #oklaed in the Primary Elections

Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. With nine days until the primaries this year, I’m starting a top 10 list of reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. We can’t sit this one out. Too much is riding on this.

  1. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.

It wasn’t so long ago that teachers and friends of teachers banded together and let the world know that we were fed up. In 2014, we had been insulted too many times by the person who was supposed to be leading us. The sitting state superintendent had told us that she’d “be damned” if she’d let another generation of children be lost. She called schools failures. She sidled up to Jeb Bush and his merry band of corporate education reformers. She didn’t give teachers the time of day.

In 2014, #oklaed led the movement that fought to override Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2625 and allow parents to have a voice in the decision to promote third graders to fourth grade. The very next month we really made some noise.

Remember When 6.24.14.png

When Joy Hofmeister won the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 24, 2014, and incumbent Janet Barresi came in third, we clinked our glasses together, exchanged fist bumps, and exhaled. Rob Miller even did a little dance.

Maybe we exhaled a little too soon. Other than Aaron Stiles in House District 45, no incumbent lost a race in 2014. Even more critical was the fact that Fallin won re-election over Joe Dorman (something that would be much less likely right now). In other words, for all the things that we eventually elected Joy Hofmeister to do, she had the same governor and essentially the same set of legislators who had enacted A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurement.

Baxter - support your candidates.png

We now approach this year’s primary elections. The good news is that the power of #oklaed has grown. The problem is that instead of focusing all of that energy on one race, we are focused on many. With over 100 contested legislative races this time around (not all in the primary), the best most of us can do is cherry-pick a handful of races in which it is critical to protect the seat or flip the seat.

Also, we can’t exactly sneak up on anyone this time around. We’re loud and proud. The Oklahoman has attacked us. So has one of the tentacles associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. We’re kind of a big deal. People know who we are.

kind of a big deal.gif

Superintendent Hofmeister continues to support us. She helped promote an end to End-of-Instruction testing and the failure of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). She worked with legislatures to take value added measurements (VAM) out of teacher evaluation. We’re in for a clumsy transition, partly because of federal requirements still, but you have to acknowledge that we are seeing the early stages of the dismantling of high-stakes testing.

Hofmeister campaigned on these principals. Honestly, all six of Barresi’s challengers did. The Legislature has begun to reverse bad policy, but only to a point. Whatever you see the next point being – mine would be ending the third-grade retention law – we need to get the state superintendent and her department some help.

And for the record, I’m not saying that #oklaed activism was the sole reason that Barresi was sent home after one term. It took a rock star candidate to beat her in the primary. We supported the candidate, and it seems to have helped. We have many now who need our support. They need us making calls and knocking on doors for them. Give a day. Give half a day.

This is how we fix #oklaed – by supporting candidates who will support us. The time is now.

What the $250,000!?!

I struggle to understand some of life’s bigger mysteries. Is Area 51 real? Where do crop circles come from? Why does anyone care what the Kardashians (or any other of the pseudo-celebrities on television do?

Yesterday, the Oklahoman presented us with another:

A state agency that manages tobacco settlement money has created a $250,000-a-year job and offered it to someone whose name was not disclosed.

By comparison, the governor of Oklahoma makes $147,000 per year.

Some have questioned the high salary for the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust’s new chief executive officer, a position created at a time when many state departments are facing severe budget cuts.

Tracey Strader, 57, who now leads the trust as executive director, earns $120,000 a year and will stay on with the agency, which has 22 employees.

David Blatt, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said it’s unusual to create a $250,000 position for an agency with so few employees, while other, much larger parts of state government, affecting millions of Oklahomans, are run by executives earning much less.

The trust has more than $1 billion in its endowment, funded by settlement money from big tobacco companies. Interest from the settlement is spent by the trust to discourage smoking and boost public health.

“Certainly by the standards of state government a salary this big is almost unprecedented,” Blatt said. “It seems hard to know why they would be willing to double the salary of the existing director and why the name hasn’t been revealed.”

Hey, it’s good work, if you can get it! Please understand that this position will not cost the state anything. As TSET is self-funding at this point, none of this money could have been used to offset other deficits in our budget. Its purposes are very specific. According to their website, they can do five things:

Oklahoma’s Constitution was amended by a vote of the people, to place a portion of each year’s tobacco settlement payments into an endowment trust fund, to create a five-member Board of Investors to oversee the investment of the trust funds, and to create a seven-member Board of Directors to direct the earnings from the trust to fund programs in the following five areas:

1. Clinical and basic research and treatment efforts in Oklahoma for the purpose of enhancing efforts to prevent and combat cancer and other tobacco-related diseases,

2.Cost-effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs,

3.Programs designed to maintain or improve the health of Oklahomans or to enhance the provision of health care services to Oklahomans, with particular emphasis on such programs for children,

4. Programs and services for the benefit of the children of Oklahoma, with particular emphasis on common and higher education, before- and after-school programs, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs and services designed to improve the health and quality of life of children,

5. Programs designed to enhance the health and well-being of senior adults.

Yes, the salary is high and unprecedented. Yes, selecting someone for the post and not announcing the name is intriguing. On its face, this is just the kind of government waste and overreach that the right-wing watchdogs at a particular organization would find outrageous. However, as the Oklahoman article continues, we see this isn’t the case:

Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said his organization has been encouraging the trust to use some of its resources directly to help people access health care.

“We believe they should be more proactive in shoring up rural primary care needs, critical access needs, as opposed to advertising and funding grants,” he said.

Small said that if the new chief executive officer is successful in steering the agency in the direction of helping the state pay for public health care, he or she could be worth a big salary.

I did some research. Small typically doesn’t like seeing big government salaries. Nor does he generally think the government is effective at providing education. As he wrote last week in the Journal Record:

Well, the data suggests some Oklahoma public schools are not very efficiently operated. The sheer number of individual school districts, more than 500, means that we’re spending a lot on superintendents who in some cases preside over districts with fewer than 100 students.

That’s not surpising. The OCPA and their strongest adherents in the legislature often complain about the cost of school administration. This is just what we expect.

What Small wrote about cigarette use back in March, however, seems to really contradict his new-found hope:

Government at its core is force, often by burdensome taxation. Our failed criminal justice policy demonstrates that using the force of government to change non-violent moral behavior leads to hurting Oklahomans. Over and over states have demonstrated that cigarette tax increases marginally affect smoking, but significantly decrease the purchasing power for other necessities, including for the most vulnerable smokers and their families.

Our economy is struggling. We can’t afford tax policy that artificially deters Oklahoma consumers from Oklahoma businesses.

If we truly care about Oklahomans who smoke and their families, particularly the most vulnerable, we will help them make wise choices, not use the force of government to hammer them and their families for non-violent moral behavior.

His points are about proposals to increase the cigarette tax. The last sentence, though, shows his true feelings on the force of government. Do you know who else has this force? TSET. And now we know who will be leading them forward:

The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust announced Tuesday Patrice Douglas has accepted a newly created $250,000-a-year job heading up the state agency.

Douglas is a former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner, a former Edmond mayor and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. House.

The announcement came a week after the trust stirred public concern with word that it was starting a lucrative new position and had offered it to an undisclosed person at a time when most state agencies are facing severe budget cutbacks.

lloyd bridges

I don’t know enough about Douglas to say whether she was a good choice or not. Let’s say she is. And let’s say that under a couple of years of her leadership, smoking decreases significantly and the state saves money in direct and indirect health-care costs.

That still doesn’t justify the salary. Saving money is the expectation for leaders of public agencies. It doesn’t merit this high of a salary for this small of an agency. It’s a slap in the face to everybody else who is dealing with brutal budget cuts in Oklahoma. And yes, I know I’m a superintendent and part of what some would consider to be the problem. That’s an altogether separate conversation.

Oklahoma keeps demoralizing its citizens. This won’t help.

 

Sixteen Days to Something Different

I’ve been working off and on for a few days on a post on the education budget, especially the activities budget. I’m not going to finish it.

The post I didnt finish.png

If you want to try to understand the process by which these decisions were made, you should go to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website and find the board documentation they provided. Some projects weren’t cut. Some were cut more heavily than others. You can also watch State Superintendent explain in the video below.

If you want to see more written about the Activities Budget, you can do one of two things. You can read the Oklahoman and Tulsa World coverage, or you can get your own blog. It’s really easy.

What’s done is done. We can dwell on it, as we plan for another school year with less money and more students. Instead, maybe we should do something about it. We can’t keep sending the same people to the Oklahoma Capitol and expect them to do different things. The government is broken, but we keep sending delegates from the same set of archetypes to represent us.

We have tax policy purists, who will never stray from their pledges to national groups that make adherents swear never to raise taxes. I like low taxes too, but I also like a state government that funds core services at something above famine level. More importantly, I like for our elected leaders to forego signing pledges to special interest groups. And yes, that includes public education. Make pledges to your voters.

We have people who can’t wait to throw their piety in your face. They want you to know and adhere to their moral code. They also want you to vilify anybody who believes differently.

We have people whose ambition seems to be their defining trait. They barely mask it. They migrate from interest to interest, always throwing their own name on top of whatever hot topic seizes the public’s attention. They love the issues that prey on the electorate’s emotions, even though they know that there is no way the legislation they propose or pass will ever be enacted.

I could go on and on, but what we don’t have is a critical mass of legislators who get it. Yes, I know that’s incredibly vague criticism, but I can be more specific.

If you look at the state’s budget overall, you can see that some agencies and services took harder hits than K-12 education did. Maybe it’s fair to say that our state leaders are angrier with OU president David Boren than they are with us. If that’s the case, maybe I should stop writing.

I tease. Of course spite would never factor into the budget writing process, right?

Our governor and legislators keep pointing to the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is really low. That’s not their fault, of course, but the policies of the last 10 years that have depleted state revenues are their fault. Again, I want low taxes. I also want fully funded schools. I want roads and bridges that don’t collapse under the weight of traffic. I want prisons that aren’t a danger to those who work there due to overcrowding. I want the state services for the poor, elderly, mentally ill, and drug-addicted to remain viable options for their families.

In short, I want state leaders who don’t kick the financial can down the road and balance the budget on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. So do many Oklahomans, and that is why we have so many primary races coming up that feature viable challengers to incumbent representatives and senators.

Associated Press writer Sean Murphy wrote about this yesterday:

Mid-year cuts to public schools and other state services, along with a looming budget crisis, helped draw a record number of political newcomers to races for state House and Senate offices in Oklahoma this year.

Legislators will soon learn if the same general discontent exists among voters, who head to the polls June 28 for Oklahoma’s statewide primary election. Every Oklahoma senator up for re-election drew at least one opponent this year, while only 14 current House members went unopposed as a record number of candidates filed for office.

Rep. John Paul Jordan, a first-term Republican who represents the Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon, drew a slate of opponents including two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent.

“There’s frustration with the Legislature, and I think we’re looking at an election cycle where a lot of people are just frustrated with the status quo,” Jordan said.

We’re very frustrated. Incumbents know it. That’s why they’re doing anything they can to turn back their challengers. Murphy continues:

On the Senate side, two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa also was a popular target, drawing two Republican challengers, three Democrats and an independent. Among his Democratic opponents is a retired superintendent from Sand Springs, and Newberry acknowledges some pro-education groups would like to knock him out of office.

“I think it’s a concerted effort by a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work that’s being done in the Capitol building, and they want to take a shot at people running for re-election,” Newberry said.

I’ll admit to being a part of a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work being done at the Capitol. That’s why I’ve been flying the state flag upside down as a sign of distress on Facebook and Twitter for weeks. They aren’t serving their constituents. They’re serving their donors. Or their parties.

dear lord brian jackson is friends with a democrat we are all going to die

Typically, once either party can verify that you are a bonafide registered voter in that party, they let you look around in the pantry for any ingredients that will help you in the kitchen. In this case, however, the Oklahoma Republican Party has told Newberry’s primary challenger, Brian Jackson, that he can take his knives and go. Jackson and retiring Sand Springs superintendent Lloyd Snow – who is running for the same seat as a Democrat – are friends. They both know that Newberry’s record on public education is lousy, and they’ve said so, jointly. Neither is waging a partisan campaign. Much like the main characters in the Frog and Toad books, Brian and Lloyd are friends.when lloyd met brian

For those of us who choose people and issues over parties, the denial of resources to a bonafide candidate stinks to high heaven. If you look at just education issues, I’m probably going to agree with both Jackson and Snow a lot more than I would agree with Newberry. Beyond that, I’d be likely to agree with Snow on some issues and Jackson on another. I’m not beholden to either party. I don’t check all the boxes on either list.

I am a voter who supports public education, though, and I’m one who thinks that we are at a crossroads. We can make some serious change, and  we can do it soon.

Still, some don’t believe. They think we’re doomed to fail. As the Tulsa World reported yesterday:

The strife during the recent legislative session and the proliferation of candidates it produced are unlikely to lead to a major challenge to Republican control of state government, political observers speaking at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa said Friday.

“I’ll be shocked if there’s a net change of two seats either way,” Republican political consultant Pat McFerron said.

I’m not looking to change the Republican to Democrat ratio in the House or Senate nearly as much as I’m looking to change the degree to which the chambers as a whole support public education. I’d love to see Jackson take Newberry out in the primary. If Jackson wins and comes up against Snow, I really don’t have a preference.

If we change two seats this month in the primary elections, that alone would be huge. Former State Board of Education member Tim Gilpin agrees:

What will make Oklahoma great again, or at least better? Answer — teachers. The last several years we’ve endured drastic cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. Cuts that are short-sighted and destructive to our present and future. This occurred while teachers were largely absent as a political force in Oklahoma. But, in the late 1980s educators were leaders in our state’s politics and we were better off for it. Cuts in our state budget started during the Great Recession. But even in the face of record energy prices and a national recovery, our state leaders continued cutting education and basic services. Our current problems are not all about low energy prices.

I have friends who have made lists. I even am a board member of a group that put out a list of pro-education candidates, though I don’t agree with all the selections. How could I? In a state as spread out as ours, I don’t have the information to know the ins and outs of all the races. After all, we have 101 representatives and 48 senators. All of the House and half of the Senate seats are up for re-election.

I’ve already chimed in on Newberry and two of his challengers. I’ll go ahead and give my two cents publicly on one more race.

Senate District 45 covers most of the Mustang school district and a considerable portion of the Moore school district. In other words, this race is about the places where I have spent the majority of my career. It even covers the far southwestern tip of Mid-Del. The incumbent, Kyle Loveless, is finishing his first term. I met him when I worked in Moore, and he came to ask us questions about the Reading Sufficiency Act. He even visited one of our elementary schools in Mid-Del last fall. I have no complaints about his availability. He is friendly and engaging when I’ve been around him.

His record on education leaves much to be desired, though. He is a staunch supporter of vouchers, and he frequently takes to social media to push the school consolidation agenda. He, along with members of groups that are openly hostile to public education, also often chastise schools for the actions of individuals. Somehow, even though Sen. Loveless has his own children in public schools, it serves him politically to paint schools as horrible places.

His opponent, on the other hand, is Mike Mason, a teacher at Mustang High School. I taught with Mike during my last six years at MHS. Teachers respected him. Parents and students appreciated him. He was teacher of the year for 2016, and the Oklahoman even ran a highly positive story on him prior to his filing for SD 45. Mike is a true educator and more than any other candidate I can name, one who would change the makeup of the Senate.

Mason is underfunded, compared to the incumbent, but money isn’t everything. Jeb Bush had more donations than any other presidential candidate. That didn’t work out too well for him, did it? If Mike is to win this seat – for that matter, if any of the challengers are to win, we simply have to overcome complacency. We have to vote.

Know which House and Senate seats represent you. Find your polling place or learn how to vote early. Donate to candidates you support who support public education and volunteer for their campaigns. And call some friends.

This election cycle matters. We may not have the unifying symbol of She Who Must Not be Named to kick around anymore. We have to do more focused and detailed work to find and support good candidates who believe in public schools.

So what are you waiting for? We have 16 days.

Reason to Believe

April 15, 2016 1 comment

Back in the 80s, I had the good fortune to take Competitive Speech at Norman High School with Dr. Betsy Ballard. During my senior year, our adaptation of Marsha Norman’s Getting Out placed third in the One Act Play competition at state. I had the illustrious role of assistant stage manager. I can’t remember everything about the play, but I remember who played Bennie, the prison guard. I even remember who played the main character, Arlene and her younger self, Arlie.

I vaguely remember the storyline too. Arlene is a paroled convict. She, and several of the other characters, had monologues in which they subtly tried to distance themselves from their past, especially from their own choices. More than anything, though, I remember the song that Dr. Ballard paired with the play – Bruce Springsteen’s Reason to Believe, from the Nebraska album.

This song has stuck with me for nearly 30 years now. It’s on several playlists on my iPhone. I think I’ve even used it on another blog post before. The first verse is kind of Kerouac-ian:

Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by the highway in a ditch
He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled pokin’ that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open he’s standin’ out on highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run
Struck me kinda funny seem kinda funny sir to me
Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe

The last line repeats at the end of each verse.

At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe.

I know I come off as rather skeptical at times. Whether it’s because I coached a team that we thought was going to magically come to life or maybe because we taught a student who had shown no engagement throughout a school year, I always wanted to believe that anything was possible. As a principal, when I suspended a student, I didn’t stand watch when he returned to school so that I could catch him in another act of defiance. I hoped for the best. I looked for the reason to believe.

Sometimes, in the face of despair and overwhelmingly contrary evidence, I still expect something good to happen. That is why, when Speaker Hickman says that the House will not accept a budget that cuts education more than five percent (on top of our already debilitating cuts), I’m hopeful that there is a reason to believe it. There’s this $1.3 billion shortfall, after all.

It’s also why, when Governor Fallin looks us in the eyes and tells us that she has a plan to fill the hole and keep PK-12 funding at the level initially allocated last summer, I want to believe. You could say that I’m a cynical optimist. Just give me a reason to hope, and I’ll try to stick with you. Even if the five concepts of her plan either violate the state constitution thanks to SQ 640 or will struggle to find support among legislators, I want to believe.

Mainly, I want to believe because I’m tired of education funding cuts. I’m tired of what this is doing to our schools. I want to believe that the people we’ve elected are tired of it too.

One more thing gives me reason to believe. This week, 382 Oklahomans filed for 126 seats in the Legislature. Several seats are vacant due to term limits, and several legislators decided for one reason or another not to file to run again. Many of them will be missed. All of them make sacrifices to do this job, and for that alone, should be appreciated.

As I wrote in December, during the 2014 elections seats pretty much were handed back to incumbents.

2014 Legislature Elections Up for Election Unopposed Primary Only Elected in November
House 101 50 15 36
Senate 25 8 4 13
Total Seats 126 58 19 49

This year, the difference is incredible.

2016 Legislature Elections Up for Election Unopposed Primary Only Elected in November
House 101 16 6 79
Senate 25 0 1 24
Total Seats 126 16 7 103

We are down from 58 to 16 unopposed seats. Only seven more will be decided in primary races over the summer. The other 103 races will come down to November. In some of those, Independents appear to be viable candidates too. Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but neither Democrats nor Republicans are exactly thrilled with how the presidential race is shaping up. We probably won’t see the steady stream of straight party voting this time around.

It’s a reason to believe. It’s not, however, a reason to kick back and relax. We need to know more about these 382 people. Sure, most will say they support public education, but what does that really mean. And yes, many of them are teachers or teacher-adjacent.

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As we’ve seen, though, that doesn’t mean they’ll support the teaching profession or students. Still, I believe. And today, I see many reasons.

 

Start of the 2016 Election Cycle

January 11, 2016 Comments off

Tomorrow, voters in Senate district 34 will take the first stab this year at changing the composition of the Oklahoma Legislature. As long-time readers know, I don’t usually make explicit endorsements on the blog. Well, I have twice, and I’m one for two.

I especially don’t like to interject myself into a race in which I’m not a voter. With District 34, I’m not even in the area code.

Dallas Koehn, the brilliant author of the blog, Blue Cereal Education, does live in the 918, however. He’s working on a series of posts on key legislative seats that takes our #oklaed advocacy work to another level. He did a special piece on this senate race, which Owasso voters will decide tomorrow.

I encourage you to read it all. One candidate favors eliminating the state income tax altogether. The other is a school teacher who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s not that hard to guess which one I support.

Follow Blue Cereal’s #OKElections16 series. Read his blog. Chase him around Twitter too. You’ll love it!

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