Weekly Opinion Editorial
WINK & NOD!
by Steve Fair
Oklahoma House Bill#2077, authored by
Rep. Chad Caldwell, (R-Enid) and Sen. Dave Rader, (R-Tulsa) would have directed
the State Department of Education to create an online transparency portal for
review of certain school materials. Caldwell
said the bill would have given both parents and the public access to look
through and comment on school curriculum, textbooks and library materials.
“We tried to find a simple middle of
the road common sense solution that would address both sides of this issue. Parents, not only in Oklahoma, but across the
country are concerned about what is going on in our schools,” Caldwell said. The immediate financial cost to Oklahoma taxpayers
to create the portal was estimated to be $1 million dollars.
HB#2077 passed in the House Appropriations
and Budget Education subcommittee 10-4.
All Democrats on the subcommittee opposed it with one Republican, Rep.
Ronny Johns, (R-Ada), a former school superintendent, joining them. On March 2nd, when voted on by the
full A&B committee, HB#2077 failed 24-8.
Opposition to HB#2077 was initially from
Democrats. Democrat floor leader, Rep.
Andy Fugate, (D-Del City) said, “I’m concerned about the impact to classroom
teachers having another place to have to upload information. If they don’t use the precise, exact language,
they open themselves up to be a target.”
But some Republicans also thought HB#2077 had some fishhooks. Rep. Rhonda Baker, (R-Yukon) said school
superintendents in her district opposed it because they didn’t have the
manpower to upload the material.
Caldwell responded that his goal was to reduce the burden on the
districts, not add to it. Baker voted to
advance the bill in subcommittee, but opposed passage in full committee (very
common occurrence). Three observations:
First, parents and taxpayers have a right
to know what is going on in the schools.
They are the ones paying the bill.
HB#2077 may not have been the right vehicle or had the perfect language,
but Caldwell’s idea of accountability and transparency is a good one. Making it easier for taxpayers and parents to
review what their children are being taught or have access to it would have
been progress. It might have been
vexatious and burdensome for educators to upload, but that could have been
addressed. Parents and school patrons should
not have to engage in espionage and reconnaissance to find out what their local
school is teaching.
Second, the killing of HB#2077 illustrates
the effective power of the education lobby.
Once word got out HB#2077 had gotten out of the subcommittee and had a
chance to become law, opposition got busy.
They immobilized and made sure the bill was dead on arrival. The education lobby is consistently opposed
to efforts to provide the public more transparency into what is going on in
schools. Any attempt to force more
accountability is resisted.
Third, local school board members are
important. These elected officials serve
with little or no compensation. Per
Oklahoma statutes, school board members are ‘eligible’ to receive $25 per
meeting, not to exceed $100 monthly. They
represent school patrons and parents and are charged with general oversight of
the district. Sadly, most just ‘rubber
stamp’ the administration’s recommendation on curriculum and textbooks. They take more interest in the fiscal issues. Both are important. School board members should make it their
mission to know what their school is teaching and solicit input from those in
School board races were held across the
state of Oklahoma in February and April.
Turnout was dismal. Less than 10%
of those eligible to cast a vote bothered to show up and vote. Until parents and taxpayers start to care
more, little will change.
Several Republican House members opposed
passage of HB#2077 in the A&B committee.
If your State Representative was one of them- ask them why they opposed
it. They may have a good reason, but opposing
it because the school superintendents in the district opposed it is not one of
them. Opposition to a bill that provides
transparency to taxpayers has to be more substantive than just a wink and a nod.