If the so-called “school deregulation” bill makes it to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk, she should veto it, and, in effect, kill the legislation.
— News On 6 (@NewsOn6) March 11, 2016
Senate Bill 1187, the School District Empowerment Act, barely passed the Senate on a 25-20 vote last week. It takes 25 votes in the Senate to pass legislation so the reality is the bill passed by one vote. The Republican-dominated House is expected to pass the legislation as well, according to political observers. It takes a two-thirds majority to override a governor veto, which would be extremely unlikely to happen in this case, especially in the Senate.
So right now it looks like it will be up to Fallin to do the right thing. SB 1187, which can be viewed here, would allow school districts to opt out of several state educational requirements, including minimum salary requirements for teachers, participation in the state teacher’s retirement program, teacher certification requirements and due process in personnel matters. It also eliminates the requirement for a criminal background check of school employees through the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. School districts, under the bill, could also opt out of meeting state academic standards.
The bill, which was ultimately sponsored by State Sens. Clark Jolley of Edmond and Josh Brecheen of Coalgate, both Republicans, could create an uneven and chaotic K-12 school system in Oklahoma, weaken standards and result in even lower average teacher salaries. Oklahoma’s teacher salaries are already the lowest in the region and near the bottom in the country.
Proponents of the bill make the argument that it would allow districts more flexibility in hiring adjunct instructors, but there are already policies in place to do so. Also, if that was the major reason for the bill, why not just create a measure that focuses on that one issue? Oklahoma faces a current teacher shortage as educators flee the state to work in states where they can make more money and are more appreciated. This bill only fuels the problem.
The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) opposes the measure. In a statement about the bill, OEA President Alicia Priest said:
Passage of this bill will hurt students because it fails to hold all schools to the highest standards. Instead, it allows for shortcuts that weaken our education system all because our state refuses to properly fund our schools.
In a time of drastic budget cuts to public education here in Oklahoma, many legislators have apparently decided to wreak even more damage on schools and state learning systems. The overall philosophical mission embraced by many in the GOP-dominated legislature is to ultimately destroy public education here and replace it with some type of quasi-private school system funded by taxpayers. The school voucher initiative, which is part of the GOP mission, died in the legislature this year, which makes SB 1187 seem even more like punitive and petty politics aimed at denigrating public school teachers and casually dismissing the educational outcomes of students.
It’s difficult for me to understand why parents would want or let their children to go to schools filled with uncertified and underpaid teachers who don’t have to meet any set academic standards in schools without textbooks and educational equipment, but given the fact the legislators supporting this measure have been elected by many of these parents it should surprise no one. On a realistic level, the state’s larger districts in and around the largest cities would probably NOT immediately opt out of the most important of the state requirements, but how long would that last given a state budget shortfall of $1.3 billion for next fiscal year and no apparent economic upturn in sight?
SB 1187 could truly turn the state’s educational system into a quagmire of chaos and mediocrity and contribute to massive depopulation and a brain drain here fueled as well by the downturn and layoffs in the oil and gas industry, which some experts predict will impact Oklahoma for at least two years or even more.
It may be up to Fallin to save the state from a huge disaster. Will she do it? Or are we headed towards the 1980s-era economic stagnation and brain drain that lasted for some people here for more than a decade? Maybe it’s too late to stop it, anyway.
On a related note, the bill makes it even more urgent voters pass a one-penny state sales tax increase, which would raise more than $600 million annually and exclusively for education and give teachers a $5,000 annual raise. University of Oklahoma President David Boren has spearheaded the petition drive to get the measure on the ballot.
— OurChildrenOK (@OurChildrenOK) March 11, 2016