This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

Oklahoma Bill Would Diminish Science Education

Image of “Church and state or theocracy

An Oklahoma lawmaker and his supporters will attempt to pass another bill this legislative session that, if passed, could bring religious-based creationist doctrine into public school science classrooms here.

For years, religious fundamentalists here have tried to get the state to promote and codify their narrow worldviews and philosophies about the creation of life. Will this year be the year they’re successful? On the surface, it appears they have the numbers to get the measure passed.

State Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Republican from Coalgate who lists his occupation as “motivational speaker,” has introduced this session Senate Bill 665, titled the “Oklahoma Science Education Act.”

The bill, which is coded in the legalese of disingenuous and religious fundamentalist language, states:

Teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

The code here is the “strengths” and “weaknesses” argument, which would presumably allow, if not actually pressure, teachers to essentially refute the theory of evolution and other scientific evidence pertaining to controversial “political” issues, such as global warming. That’s the twist. There’s no controversial “scientific evidence” about these issues, only “politically controversial” arguments or rhetoric about the issues.

The intent seems quite clear. Brecheen for example, has written newspaper commentary in the past that criticizes the theory of evolution, which simply states that life forms change over time.

Oklahoma educators and progressives have faced this type of attack on the basic scientific method before, but Republicans still completely dominate state government. There’s a real chance such legislation could get passed and signed into law this year.

If Oklahoma turns its high school science classrooms into political and religious debate forums the result will be ill-informed students not ready for the rigors of college or even the contemporary world. It will mean the state will end up with fewer medical doctors and researchers. It will mean the state will only bolster its ongoing negative reputation as a backwoods place.

This legislation is an extremely anti-education bill that needs to be stopped. It has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

According to the organization Oklahomans For Excellence In Science Education, the bill has “ulterior motives”:

The bill is unnecessary, as its main points are effectively covered by existing Oklahoma curriculum standards. There is no indication why we need a new state law specifying what teachers already (are required to) do and have been doing for decades. While superficially mundane, the bill has ulterior motives if one knows the creationist code in which the bill is written and these motives have nothing to do with science or critical thinking.

Fallin Makes Some Points

Image of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

I’m struck by what Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address didn’t include this year.

Gone was the sanctimonious lecturing about how Oklahoma was going to teach the federal government a thing or two about good governance. Gone were the cliché calls for “right sizing” whatever needs to be right sized in this state. Gone were the calls for major tax cuts aimed to increase the take-home income of Oklahoma’s most wealthy people.

Fallin did argue, “Our people are known nationally – and internationally – as ‘Oklahoma Strong.’” This was in reference to our responses to all our natural disasters, and I don’t want to quibble too much here, but in all my travels outside the state I’ve never heard the “Oklahoma Strong” mantra from anyone at all, ever, and I don’t expect I ever will. Many people outside the state know us, really, only for people such as science unbeliever U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe or the LGBT intolerant state Rep. Sally Kern.

What we had then was a rather bland but competent speech, and I actually mean this in a fairly positive way, that drew attention to education and health issues, but came with the important and mostly unspoken caveat that state agencies were going to face budget cuts of approximately 6.25 percent and education funding was pretty much going to remain stagnant even though the state faces a major teacher shortage.

On education, Fallin stayed generic:

There are many things we can and must do to increase education levels in Oklahoma. Whether it’s raising academic standards to ensure our high school graduates are actually graduating with 12th grade level skills, increasing funding – which I support – or finding ways to empower parents and students, we must do more.

I look forward to working with educators, parents, and our new Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in support of those goals.

One thing we know we can do NOW, that doesn’t require large sums of new money, is to help strengthen partnerships between local businesses and local schools where students can dual track their education and work skills.

Note that reference to the lack of “large sums of new money.” That’s the important part. I sense that as long as Republicans dominate state government here education funding will remain at some of the lowest levels in per pupil spending in the nation. Local businesses are not going to help in any significant way to solve our teacher shortage problems.

A point Fallin made in her speech that I really did like was her mention of our overcrowded incarceration system and how we need to become “smart on crime.” Fallin said:

It costs the state around $19,000 a year to house an inmate, but only $5,000 a year to send an addict through drug court and on to treatment. In addition to being less expensive, it’s also more effective; the recidivism rate for offenders sent to drug court is just one-fourth of the rate for those sent to prison.

This is a legitimate argument that I hope receives some attention from the legislature this year, although I’m not hopeful. Most law-and-order state Republican lawmakers still retain a myopic punitive mentality about crime, even for non-violent offenders, rather than a rehabilitation mentality about crime. Fallin, in her last term of governor, can speak as much common sense as possible at this point, but will anyone in her party listen to her and does she really even care that much?

Fallin’s call for “performance informed budgeting” and setting various goals for the state seemed overly bureaucratic and perhaps was just filler for her speech. The state has major problems related to health outcomes and education funding. It’s fine to set goals, but without a meaningful budget commitment nothing will improve here drastically.

But, in the end, Fallin’s speech could have been worse for progressives, and it did make a salient point or two.

Could Oklahoma Eventually Face $1 Billion Shortfall?

A hydraulic fracturing rig

So the layoffs begin because of the fracking bust and so does the tragedy that could have been prevented.

Helmerich and Payne, a Tulsa-based rig maker, has announced it’s laying off 2,000 employees because of the world oil glut caused by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom here in Oklahoma and across the country.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m against the negative environmental impact of fracking, but let me be clear that I’m also against people losing their jobs. I have many friends connected to the energy industry one way or another here in Oklahoma. I don’t want them to suffer through a job loss or even the anxiety they might lose their job.

Helmerich and Payne, of course, is just one company. Many oil and gas companies throughout the country and here in Oklahoma have announced around a 20 percent cutback in spending because the price of oil per barrel has dropped from more than $100 last summer to under $50 today.

The glut was caused because oil and gas companies here in the United States seized the opportunity to frack for shale oil as prices soared. Companies made tons of money, but now there’s a glut, and Saudi Arabia is not going to decrease its own oil production just because energy magnates such as locals Harold Hamm or Aubrey McClendon want to become even richer. The Saudis have every logical right to act as an equalizing force in the market. This is geopolitics at its basic level.

I have two thoughts on this issue today:

  • Virtually all the oil and gas experts featured in the local press are predicting a rebound in oil barrel prices by the end of the year yet I don’t see that those forecasts are based on anything fundamentally sound. The reasoning seems to be that companies will stop producing as much oil NOW, and then this will drive prices back up LATER. Okay, but wouldn’t more fracking at that point LATER eventually just lead to another downturn? What’s needed is an overall energy policy in the country that, along with fossil fuels, includes renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, and even more emphasis on energy conservation. The boom and bust cycle of fossil fuels is anachronistic and simply foolish. It ruins lives, and it pollutes our environment. What’s left to argue about?
  • Oklahoma is facing a $300 million budget shortfall attributed at least partially to the world oil glut. Again, I don’t see this number as something that’s fundamentally sound or correct. It’s a guess. With a sustained slide in gross production taxes and with layoffs that take money directly out of the overall economy in terms of sales and income taxes, the shortfall could certainly grow. Let me throw out a new shortfall number amount: $1 billion. That’s at the high end, true, but I’ve yet to encounter evidence that disputes the collective effect of a major downturn in the energy industry here. I hope I’m wrong, but people should be prepared for the worst.
  • Teachers need raises here. Our prison system is overcrowded with non-violent offenders, wasting millions upon millions of dollars each year. Too many people lack health insurance here and need better medical access. The state’s infrastructure, from the crumbling state Capitol building to our roads and bridges, needs improvements.

    But here in Oklahoma, we just allow the oil wildcatters to drill, baby, drill, pretty much whenever and wherever they want until they drill us all into misery and despair. They get the cash, the fancy homes and financial security. We get stuck with the big social and money problems when it all collapses. It’s the state’s story. Someone should write a song about it. What we need is a brand new state.

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