Monday, May 11, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
By Steve Fair
Last Wednesday, the Senate passed SB #834, the so-called “school deregulation bill,” authored by Representative Tad Jones, R, Claremore, and Senator John Ford, R, Bartlesville. The bill cleared the upper chamber by a vote of 25-23. The House passed the measure by a margin of 60-39, both votes were along party lines. Late Friday evening, Governor Henry vetoed the bill and because it didn’t pass the legislature with a large enough margin, it’s unlikely it will be brought up again this session.

Henry said the bill would have, “turned back the clock on decades of education reforms.” "While local control is an important component of a successful public education system, it is also critical to have rigorous state standards in place to produce the highest quality graduates and ensure achievement and accountability throughout the system," the governor said.

The bill would have allowed public schools to operate as charter schools and free them from many of the state “unfunded” mandates. Some school administrators and schools boards supported the bill because it would have given them more local control. The Oklahoma State School Board Association, the Cooperative Council of School Administrators, the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition, the suburban and rural school associations, and the OKC, Tulsa, and State Chambers endorsed SB 834.

The Oklahoma Education Association, and State Superintendent for Education Sandy Garrett opposed it. They claimed the bill would have eliminated school librarians and counselors and would have made teachers “at will” employees. In reality, the bill gave local school boards and administrators the power to run their own districts and establish their own academic standards and rules. Henry said that one of his concerns was that local school administrators could ignore rigorous state standards and create their own academic benchmarks and rules under the bill. The exact opposite would have likely happened, because local school boards and administrators are very concerned about educating their children. Henry’s statement that local unpaid elected officials on the school board are not interested in education is elitist and condescending and he owes those people an apology.

Speaker of the House Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said, "In vetoing SB 834, the governor has denied school districts much-needed freedom to meet our educational goals." "We continue to believe those locally, including parents, teachers and administrators, know what is best when it comes to education in their local communities. We aren't going to give up this fight for the children of our state," Benge pledged.

Senator Ford, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said even though we pump millions of dollars into education each year, schools are still saddled with so many mandates that limit how these funds are used. “Senate Bill 834 is simply an education local empowerment bill that will free-up teachers to teach,” said Ford.

It’s clear something needs to change in Oklahoma public schools. We have more total school districts across the state than Texas. We spend the majority of money allocated for education on non-classroom related activities- i.e. infrastructure and administration. Oklahoma continues to score low in comparative testing vs. other states, yet when someone comes up with an idea to let local districts have more power in how to improve their school system, it’s opposed by educational unions.

According to the National Assessment of Education Programs, Oklahoma fourth graders rank 37th in Reading and 36th in Math, while our eighth graders rank 34th in reading and 40th in Math. Not exactly stellar results from an educational system that gets the majority of the state budget each year.

How do we fix education in Oklahoma? If you listen to most of the establishment educators or the teacher’s union, it’s more money. If the legislature would just tax citizens more and funnel more of our money into education, test scores will improve, the clouds will open and the sun will shine. This has been the cry of education for years, yet Oklahoma student’s test scores continue to lag near the bottom third in the country. Jones and Ford’s bill was a good start. It would have allowed local districts to “think outside the box” and given them flexibility the current system doesn’t allow. It’s too bad that Governor Henry didn’t believe local school boards or administrators were qualified and capable enough to manage their own districts. So we will continue to do what we have been doing, expecting a different result.


Winston's Blues said...

Excellent blog, Fair. The bill sounds like just what we need. I wonder though, why do we keep pumping out such genuinely conservative legislation while Governor Henry is obviously going to veto anything that a) doesn't come from his side of the isle and b) would effect much change away from the status quo? He's on a veto frenzy. Are we going to reintroduce these bills when they have a chance to be signed?

Steve Fair is a political activist. said...

2010 offers us a great opportunity in Oklahoma- NEVER have conservatives had control of both the legislature and the Governorship. That is when I think we will see true change in Oklahoma.