Joe Dorman’s campaign for governor took a strong step in the right direction Thursday when it linked Gov. Mary Fallin to controversial outgoing State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and offered up a plan to better fund schools.
In a press release, Dorman, the Democratic nominee for governor, pointed out, “Governor Fallin failed students. On her watch, hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from education, in contrast to other states that have chosen to invest in education. She allowed her State Superintendent, Janet Barresi, to run amok.”
Of course, Republicans might see this as typical attack politics, but it’s simply a fact that Barresi’s aggressive stances were supported principally and myopically by Fallin and the editorial board of The Oklahoman, which had its own personal vested interest in Barresi. Oklahoman Republicans disapproved of Barresi's actions so much that she came in third in the primary of her reelection attempt. She’s now a lame duck. Joy Hofmeister won the election and is the Republican nominee for the position.
Fallin’s support for Barresi in how she implemented the A-F assessment system for schools and high-stakes testing, especially reading tests for third graders, remained consistent through Barresi’s stormy tenure. If Hofmeister is elected, and Republicans are expected to sweep state offices again in November, will she be pressured by Fallin to follow Barresi’s lead, only in a softer, less aggressive demeanor?
But is Fallin infallible when it comes to her reelection because of national politics, primarily President Barack Obama’s unpopularity here, which is outside Dorman’s control? That might be so, but that doesn’t mean an honest, aggressive campaign doesn’t stand a chance at all or that it isn’t worth it for Democrats down the road.
Dorman’s plan, called “Classrooms First,” would dedicate the state’s business franchise tax to classroom instruction. In a press conference about his plan, Dorman said it would add about $50 a year per pupil. This doesn’t seem like a lot of money, and trying to use franchise tax money is problematic because Republicans have indicated they want to end this tax on businesses altogether, but the point is to stop Oklahoma’s race to the bottom when it comes to funding its education systems. Let’s at least explore the possibilities.
What always gets overlooked in the recent debate over the state’s schools is the fact that funding for them was cut by a drastic 22.8 percent since The Great Recession in 2008, the most in the nation. It’s a form of outright cruelty to make such massive cuts in education and then implement draconian assessment measures that are designed to show failure.
Dorman’s plan is not a game-changer when it comes to increased funding for education, but it starts a debate that needs to happen in Oklahoma. He should also continue to expose the specifics of Fallin’s support for Barresi. It doesn’t even have to be couched in attack language. It’s just a fact, backed by copious amounts of evidence.
It’s illogical to think we can cut our school funding the most in the nation and expect high test scores in return. Dorman apparently recognizes this. No, this doesn’t mean money solves every issue in education, but everyone should know that cheap stuff breaks easier.
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