OKLAHOMA CITY — It was a tough Monday morning for Oklahoma Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Dist. 51) as he tried to sell SB 301 to skeptical GOP and Democratic House members in the Education Committee*.
The bill is intended to establish a dedicated investigator of the state Board of Education to make sure that teachers suspected of being “sexual predators” can’t move from one school district to another when legal prosecutions fall apart.
But the committee wasn’t buying it — not even the Republicans.
Activism becomes easier if there is a big figure who is openly defiant and antagonistic toward the position of the activists. Think Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War or Richard Nixon during the end of the anti-war protests and the Watergate hearings.
State Superintendent for Public Instruction Janet Barresi has been that bigger-than-life, openly hostile, antagonistic figure for anti-reform education activists in Oklahoma. Rather than coming from some experience of education in her background, she is a dentist who suspended her practice to run for the position.
Barresi has revealed a lot in her recent self-righteous comments that I included in the post Barresi Misses the Fact that She Is the “Power”. Those comments show us that she believes she and her allies are the righteous few – misunderstood geniuses – fighting against a stupid, corrupt rabble of teachers unions and administrators who are just trying to defend their turf at all costs.
Of course, she never seems to believe that her opponents may be the ones who are right.
Certainly too many education “reformers” fall into this category. While talking a “disruptive innovation” game, they bring only disruption and not for the sake of innovation.
There was a larger-than-usual crowd gathered at the Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting yesterday, June 26th. The room filled completely although the location had been changed to a huge Oklahoma Senate hearing room to accommodate it.
After some formalities, Supt. Barresi started off saying that she wanted to first make “some brief comments”. Here is about the first 2 1/2 minutes of those opening remarks. If you can’t take even that much, just stop it and keep reading.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma State School Superintendent Janet Barresi are all for parents having plenty of options to make choices for their children’s education, until they are not for it.
Fallin and Barresi experienced a ripping defeat in the overwhelming vote in both the House (79-17) and the Senate (45-2) to override Fallin’s veto of HB 2625. That bill, turned law today, allows parents, the teacher, and a reading specialist to come to a decision about promoting a child from the 3rd to the 4th grade.
A so-called reform law passed in a previous year took control of 3rd to 4th grade promotions out of everyone’s hands and placed it solely on a one-day, one-time standardized test. Never mind what that student had done during the rest of the school year.
So, after a day of lobbying hard outside of both chambers, the most votes that the Fallin and Barresi staffs could round up to support the veto were 17 in the House and 2 in the Senate. Oops.
Congratulations to the House, and the Senate for an amazing show of bipartisanship and reason.
First Governor Fallin’s office released an angry statement excoriating anyone who was for the bill, especially the representatives and senators who voted overwhelmingly to override her veto. It was the usual blah, blah, blah of “failing our children”, meaning that we are not punishing them enough for being on an IEP, or for being English language learners, or being poor, etc.
Then Barresi stole the show with her own statement that had this:
Today’s action is a pathetic and outrageous step back and returns us to a failed system of social promotion that has served the education establishment and little else. I applaud Gov. Fallin for her steadfast support of our children. Her veto was absolutely the right thing to do, and the legislature’s override of it was absolutely the wrong thing to do.
How dare we take the control of a child’s education out of the hands of a corporation that sells millions of dollars worth of tests to Oklahoma!
And then we gave it to parents and teachers and people who actually professionally know about the science of reading! Pathetic and outrageous!
But parental control has not always been anathema to Fallin and Barresi. In fact, they were stoked about it, until their corporate handlers told them this week to stay with the plan of blaming teachers and showing just how bad public schools were. That meant flip-flopping on that parent choice thing.
In three earlier posts here, here, and here I showed how Barresi was attempting to push through Senate Bill 573 claiming the virtues of expanding charter schools throughout the state as offering parents more choices to help develop a better education for their children. With great effort from a number of Oklahoma education bloggers, the OEA, education activists, and concerned parents, that bill was defeated, much to the dislike of both Barresi and Gov. Fallin.
If nothing else, this flip-flopping on parent empowerment in their children’s education shows that what is presented as a deeply held principle is really just pandering to corporate interests, which are very large in this Republican-dominated Oklahoma government.
Principles are good until they are not good for the big money donors, then their paid-for politicians will just have to find a new set of principles and act like they have never wavered from them.
Pathetic and outrageous? Yes, Fallin and Barresi really are.
You are interviewing someone for a job and their approach is “Hey, anyone can do this. You don’t have to be very smart to do this job”. Will you hire them? You’re a knucklehead if you do. They have already decided that the work takes no effort and isn’t really important. They will only waste your time, effort, and money.
Yet, over the last 20 years, Oklahoma voters have “hired” people with similar attitudes to fill public office. Should we even be surprised that they are wasting our time, effort, and money?
The Source of the Problem
Is it even possible for them to do a good job at running our state’s government when the core of their campaign was that “government is incompetent and won’t ever do anything right”? It’s not. Before their first day in office they are on a course of incompetence.
If they make government better or just simply work, they have proven themselves wrong. And just in case you don’t know much about politics, they don’t want to do that. Ever.
It starts with those in Oklahoma who vote. We have been campaigned into believing that the best person for us to “hire” at the polls is the one who knows the least, has the least experience at running anything, and promises to do the worst job that they can think of. Ridiculous.
Now if you are in charge of a large corporation that does not want any government policing of what you do, that’s a good deal. You will give big money to those candidates. That’s exactly what has happened over the years in Oklahoma. It has a multiplying effect in that once those incompetents get into office, your lobbyists can do all of their thinking for them, because…that’s right...they don’t know anything.
So, those politicians do what they are told. They better. There are no other options for them.
Cases in Point
The latest news is that State Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi is making plans to use money budgeted for activities and alternative education to pay for health care premiums promised to teachers because of funding that has not been provided by the legislature. Here’s today’s news brief about it from NewsOK.com.
Rather than do what a Superintendent elected directly by The People should do –confront the legislature– she is going along with the general incompetence of the Republican dominated legislature because the handlers who control all of them want, you know, “team players”.
Why can’t Janet Barresi run the State Department of Education like we elected her to do? She is a dentist and doesn’t know the first thing about running a classroom for a whole year, much less the entire public school effort for the state. And so, she has to follow orders of bigger corporate interests when they call. She has hired itinerant corporate education tools from out-of-state to fill top jobs just below hers because that’s what she is expected to do by those who paid big money to get her into office. She’s on the team.
Why can’t Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt do anything else but bring frivolous law suits against the Affordable Care Act at taxpayers’ expense of millions and not do much of anything else? He’s on the team.
Why can’t Gov. Fallin and the legislature stay out of the way and allow local towns and cities to set their own minimum wage if they won’t set one for the state? Why can’t they allow cities to run their own zoning ordinances? Well, even though they ran to keep big government off our backs, they create their own big government that controls us in ways that the rich and big corporate interests want us to be controlled. They are on the team.
Too Much Consolidation of Power
What early 1900s Progressives knew from experience in the century before was that The People have to keep big money from controlling every aspect of state government.
Bad government happens when it is possible for a few rich people to pay for a majority of legislative campaigns and the governor who installs lackeys throughout the executive branch. They, then, follow the orders of only a few rich people instead of The People. So, the Oklahoma Constitution calls for a large number of leaders in the executive branch to be voted on directly by The People rather than being appointed by the governor.
The problem circles back around to who votes and who we decide to vote into office. It’s people who run any government. If government isn’t working, replace those who are in charge of it.
But, those who actually vote in Oklahoma have believed the well-funded campaign line that government is the problem, and so we vote for people who don’t know anything. They then have no choice but to leave or follow orders from the lobbyists and handlers. In actual effect, we have a scenario that the writers of the Oklahoma Constitution thought they were avoiding.
The Key: More Informed, Motivated Voters Who Vote
For those of us who want reform it is a good thing that Oklahoma has put so much into making sure that voters can vote and the voting system has integrity. After all, if they believe that only certain Republicans will vote anyway, why not make it easy for them? What that really means is that we can bring change if we provide credible opposition and sound arguments. The key is getting out the vote.
It comes back around to us. How badly do we want to see change? I want it and if you are reading this, you probably want it, too. That’s why the June 24th primaries, the August 26th run-offs, and the November 4th election all matter. Put those on your calendar now and focus!