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.
The bill that was signed provides for the legislature itself to have the power to make changes to the standards as they see fit without any recourse for the SDE or those who wrote them. This means that any number of wacky ideas can make it into the those standards once all of those other folks work hard to develop them. Not a good scenario, is it?
Remember that the language that is being used is not just “repeal”, but “repeal and replace“. That’s right, the commitment to a centralized laundry list of standards that will be used to develop new tests is right there and being implemented today.
And it is a mistake to believe that getting rid of the Common Core standards will get rid of tests and the current administration’s commitment to using tests to measure “quality”. At the same news conference where Fallin gave reasons for signing the bill, SDE spokesperson Tricia Pemberton said, “We’re going to have to cobble a new test together.”
Will Change of Supt. Change Anything? Maybe. Maybe not.
I have criticized Supt. Janet Barresi in earlier postshere,here and here. And so I look forward to seeing what will happen on June 24th when primaries decide which candidates each party will run for state offices.
But will removing Barresi really change anything if the new superintendent taking office next year is just as committed to arbitrary standards, high-stakes testing, and school-shaming from those tests? It won’t.
And if that person is from the Republican Party and gets their money and support, will there be a commitment to make decisions and have a process that starts with educators first, or will organizations like ALEC have a large influence because that’s what the party wants?
Let’s move away from the partying about the repeal of the Common Core and start working toward what replace means.
Questions for the Candidates
Here are some ideas for questions that should be asked at any candidate forum for State Superintendent of Schools:
1. Do you support using standards that are established by other organizations outside of Oklahoma?
2. Do you support using standardized tests graded out-of-state that measure a student’s performance only on one day of a school year?
3. Do you support expansion of charter schools from their current number and status?
4. What would you do to promote the increase of funding for education in Oklahoma?
Having been in the Oklahoma public school classroom for 16 years, and many of those in the alternative ed classroom, I know that I am always looking for that one good thing that a student has done today. One will do. That’s it. We teachers are just wired that way.
And so it is natural for us to see one good vote from our representative or senator, praise them for it, and give them a pass on 10 bad votes that actually work against public education, especially in funding.
But to allow our legislators to use a one-good-vote approach and get by with it is a disservice to educational efforts in Oklahoma. It is also a disservice to the legislators. How?
Some may actually want to be more balanced in their voting, but in the absence of any other pressure, they are going to vote the way that lobbyists for those corporate interests tell them to vote.
So, the most cynical ones need to know that we are watching, and the earnest ones need to be able to point to our pressure as a way of holding off the corporate lobbyists.
Prepare for June 24th Primaries
There are several good ways to keep track of voting records when making your decision on how to vote in the upcoming primaries on June 24th.
Use the tools and general information on the website for the Oklahoma Policy Institute which has a track record of providing hard information on legislative matters.
The Bill Tracker tool on that website is an extremely good way to keep up with matters in the legislature when it is in session and for research in between.
Use the Bill Search feature on the web site for the Oklahoma Legislature.
Just using those tools alone will allow you to keep up with how your particular legislator voted in this last session.
One Vote In Full View, Another Gets in Under the Radar
Here is one comparison that is very important to seeing if your legislator is consistent in voting for public education and public services:
Public education and the children, parents, and teachers of Oklahoma achieved a big win on House bill 2625 – 3rd Grade Retention, authored by Republican Representative Katie Henke.
It originally passed 89-6 in the House and 43-1 in the Senate. The override of Gov. Fallin’s veto passed 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate.
During the debate, Representatives Henke, Casey, and Nolan wrote an opinion piece for the Tulsa World opposing automatic 3rd grade retention for students who did not pass the one-time, one-day test. Great!
But, lurking in the shadow of all that passion of the big win, and sliding in under confusion due to the same numbers being in this bill, there was House bill 2562 – “Gross Production Tax Cut”. Here is information provided by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
It would make permanent an incentive that had originally been given for horizontal drilling, and was set to expire next year. Now most drillers use that technique as a matter of course. After the expiration, the production tax would have moved back up to its original rate of 7%, which is the same rate used in neighboring states.
That bill, signed into law today by Gov. Fallin, offered a permanent tax break for Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry that is already flush with cash that they liberally spread around during races for the House and the Senate. It also deprives Oklahoma public services, like public education, of necessary funds in a completely manufactured crisis of funding for Oklahoma government.
The bill passed 61-34 in the House, and passed 23-22 in the Senate.
So, how did Henke, Casey, and Nolan vote? Henke was excused from the floor that day and Casey and Nolan voted against the bill. To me that’s a good example of consistency in voting. Way to go!
How did your legislators, representative and senator, vote on these two bills?
If they voted for the 3rd Grade Retention bill and the override of Fallin’s veto when the heat was on, good for them.
But, if they voted to give a big early Christmas gift to oil and gas donors in a bill passed at the very end of the session, then it’s time for them to hear from you. They voted to deprive public education and other services in Oklahoma of necessary funds in a time when Oklahoma’s economy is booming.
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!
Yeah. It’s been a tough year so far in Oklahoma. Those who actually expect logic and sanity to have anything to do with public policy are suffering what I call the Red State Blues.
We botched an execution where the condemned died a slow, agonizing death, which has made our state infamous to the rest of the nation and even world.
Our state legislature, more of an extension office of ALEC and the Koch Brothers, continues to gleefully pass laws that don’t matter and carefully avoid those that do.
So, it’s not unusual to hear liberals and progressives talking about the blues that develop after seeing so much idiocy in the public sphere. How we can overcome those Red State Blues?
In future posts I will develop more fully these five ways to do that:
1. Connect with fellow liberals and progressives locally, and in person.
Are you upset that the local paper sings only one note for the far right? Do you get angry at the ways in which there is so much disruption and shouting on social media at times by those convinced of the correctness of their wing-nut agenda? One important way for liberals to have meaningful connections is in person and locally.
2. Develop a political posture that fits your personality.
Not everyone is well-suited to accept an arrest and jail time for a cause. And not everyone is suited to even go to a rally or march for a cause. But those aren’t the only two options for political involvement about what you believe. There are far more other ways to support the causes that capture your interest and passion.
3. Set a goal to do one new thing each year to promote progressive thinking and action in your city and state.
Sometimes we liberals in red states get the blues from just the enormity – the volume – of the crazy stuff that we see going on. It can seem like a flood that cannot be stopped. But, it can over time, if each liberal decides to pick one new thing that you can do to improve the public attitude about cultural and political issues. And the blues will go away as you see progress.
4. Let others know your position through social media in ways that do not offend your conservative friends and employer.
One large contributor to red state blues is the number of employers who ascribe to right-wing ideology and expect their employees to stay silent if they don’t agree, or to give active approval. You can express your political opinion as long as you are aware of the offense triggers that can cause trouble for you.
5. Move from being a resentful liberal to a politically active progressive.
This is the big one. Resentment is born from being a cultural minority in a red state. Being a racial and cultural minority is even harder. So the effort in shaking the red state blues is to not see yourself as helpless. You’re not. We can work our way out of that paralyzing resentment through political action that fits our personality and skills the best.
I’m looking forward to your response to these ideas as I develop them further over the next several weeks.
Senate Bill 573 that would have made radical changes to the process of establishing charter schools under an appointed state-wide commission was defeated this evening. Nearly all Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans ended up being against the bill.
Two earlier posts in this blog, one from April 10th and another on the 14th, warned of the dangers with SB 573 that was indistinguishable from model legislation created by a national organization created to promote wide-open charter creation in all states.
More and more teachers, legislators, and parents, started to realize that the charter school bill, drafted and lobbied from outside of the state, had nothing to do with what was best for kids in Oklahoma, and everything to do with potential profits of for-profit corporations based outside of the state. Governor Mary Fallin continued to strongly promote the bill to the end.
Skepticism has grown recently even among those on the political right about State Superintendent Janet Barresi and her installing of top-level staffers from outside of the state who have a history of moving from one state to another to promote the agenda of for-profit education corporations.