Let’s hope a legislator’s effort to eventually cut off all state funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council gets stopped or voted down.
These uninformed attacks on the arts or the Oklahoma Education Television Authority are nothing new, of course, but that doesn’t mean this current effort couldn’t sneak through the legislature, which will convene this coming Monday.
State Rep. Dan Fisher, a Yukon Republican, has introduced House Bill 2850, which would reduce funding for the Oklahoma Arts Council (OAC) by 25 percent in proceeding years until all appropriations are eliminated by fiscal year 2018.
Devon Green, writing in the Oklahoma Gazette, recently outlined the impact of the cuts and the eventual elimination of funding. The OAC funds around 400 programs throughout the state, according to the article, and smaller, rural programs would get hit the hardest.
Taking money away from artistic endeavors lowers the quality of life in any given area. Oklahoma needs to expand cultural and artistic opportunities because of its death of cultural opportunities despite improvement in recent years. The huge economic impact of artistic events and programs often gets lost in funding debates as conservatives try to simplify the issue or issue sanctimonious ideological decrees about government spending.
For years, studies have consistently shown the positive impact of arts in our communities in engaging and connecting people. Creating a strong sense of community has a domino effect in building a healthy, aware citizenry. Other studies have shown how arts education develops in students a host of attributes, including communication skills, transferable to other non-artistic endeavors.
Fisher, a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon, recently publicly opposed the staging of the play “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” in Oklahoma City. The play contained tolerant depictions of homosexuality and satirized Biblical stories. The OAC denied funding for the play.
This is a snippet about Fisher on his religious and political views:
Dan believes that American [sic] is facing a crisis today much the same as the one faced by the country in 1776. He says it is time for the preachers of America to respond to God’s call and fully engage in the culture war that is destroying our liberties and will eventually, if not checked, steal away our religious liberty and our opportunity to freely preach the Gospel.
The idea that anyone is trying to take away Fisher’s “opportunity” to “preach the Gospel” here in Oklahoma is as ludicrous as eliminating funding for the arts.
Third graders in Oklahoma public schools will start getting retained this year under state law if they don’t pass a reading test.
Supporters of the 2011 Reading Sufficiency Act, which mandates retention starting this year if students fail the test, cloak it in sanctimonious language about helping children, but it’s really part of a unified conservative effort to damage the credibility of public schools.
Retaining an elementary-school student should be a holistic decision made by teachers, parents and school administrators based on a variety of factors, not just one proficiency test. Excessive, high-stakes testing in our schools is definitely political, not educational.
The test is given in April. According to a news report, 869 students in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district didn’t pass the test last year when the retention rule was not in effect. If the number is anyway close to that this year, it could create a simple logistics nightmare.
Here’s how the conservative attack on public schools works: Create universal difficult tests that don’t take into account individual student development and home life, force teachers to teach to the tests and then demean teachers and students when the results don’t meet arbitrary expectations.
Everyone thinks students should be able to read at a competent level, but there are a variety of factors that contribute to or inhibit a student’s ability to learn. For example, what if a student lives in an abusive or overly dysfunctional home in which literacy is not privileged? What if a student is hungry?
But the larger issue is that those who seem most adamant about high-stakes testing—primarily conservatives—are some of the same people who have systematically defunded Oklahoma schools. Since 2008, per-student funding in Oklahoma has dropped by 22.8 percent, the steepest in the nation.
It’s a classic “starve the beast” tactic, even if that term is not widely used anymore. Starve the schools of money, increase class sizes, limit individual attention to students, place the emphasis on testing and blame teachers for the result. Once that has been accomplished, conservatives can then push for privatization of schools and vouchers.
Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, who is facing serious challenges to her re-election this year, seems to be always ready with the sanctimonious language about student achievement, which never acknowledges opposition to the conservative agenda with our schools here. Barresi recently referred to the new retention law this way:
It is a tragedy when a child in our public schools cannot read. In tomorrow's world, the inability to read is a sentence to a lower quality of life. This won't happen on my watch. Oklahoma has great teachers who will help make this law succeed.
Again, no one can argue against the idea that students should be able to read. But the idea that Barresi and other conservatives here are behind “great teachers” is nothing but a myth. Our “great teachers” are some of the lowest paid in the nation. They work under a great deal of testing stress and are constantly the universal fodder of politic attacks by many conservatives, who, above all else, despise teacher unions.
Right now, the state faces a teacher shortage because our surrounding states care more about education and pay their teachers more than we do under our dominant conservative leadership.
Eventually, there will be political change here, but Oklahoma seems poised for the next few years, anyway, to continue the attack on public education through defunding public schools and creating systems designed to produce failure. The state, for example, faces a $170 million budget shortfall for next fiscal year and conservatives are clamoring for tax cuts again. Where do you get teacher raises out of that scenario?
In order not to just be negative, let me offer some ideas: Give teachers raises and boost their morale in other ways. Hire more teachers. Reduce class sizes. Ensure schools have the best equipment and textbooks to encourage learning. Give students more individual attention when it comes to reading and other subjects. Privilege parental input when it comes to the issue of retaining students.
Of course, that’s just crazy talk around this neck of the woods.
Why can’t some Republicans here understand that it’s simply unconstitutional and morally wrong to codify and pass laws discriminating against people?
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution doesn’t leave a lot of room for argument:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The “equal protection of the laws” isn’t ambiguous. The sweeping inclusion of all “citizens of the United States” isn’t ambiguous. We might debate the concepts of “life, liberty and property,” but in the end the intention of the amendment seems clear. It doesn’t single out certain groups for its application or non-application.
But this hasn’t stopped some conservative Republicans from twisting U.S. District Judge Terence Kern’s recent ruling throwing out Oklahoma’s 2004 same-sex marriage ban into pathetic, ideological snippets of absurdity. Kern stayed the ruling, which is going through the appeal process so government-sanctioned same-sex marriages can’t be performed here yet.
The judge wrote: “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to the individual constitutional rights.”
That should just be obvious to anyone.
In response, state Rep. Sally Kern (no relation to the judge), the Oklahoma City Republican who has made a political career out of her opposition to gay rights, said, “Homosexuality is not a civil right,” but that’s sheer nonsense. An intimate relationship between consenting adults is, indeed, a basic civil right, and legal marriage and divorce is regulated through license and the courts by the government.
State Rep. Mike Turner, an Edmond Republican, has even out-sallied Sally by introducing legislation that calls for another vote on a state constitutional amendment ensuring marriage is reserved for only heterosexual couples. He apparently told Michael Konopasek at News9 that actually doing away with government-regulated marriage is “something that would be part of the discussion.” In other words, the idea would be to end all marriage to prevent same-sex marriage. Really?
What’s the point of passing yet another unconstitutional state amendment conflicting with the U.S. Constitution? And, please, let’s get real about ending legal marriage here. That’s never going to happen. Would such a measure invalidate the thousands upon thousands of government-regulated marriages already in existence? Again, it’s nonsense.
The fact that there have been such extreme responses to the judge’s ruling shows how empty and shallow the opposition to same-sex marriage here has become.
Same-sex marriage has been legalized in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Same-sex marriage is also legally recognized by the federal government. It’s going to be the reality in Oklahoma sooner or later by federal edict or otherwise. Just because a majority group opposes the rights of a minority group doesn’t mean basic, blatant discrimination is legal.
Conservative politicians here should drop the gay-bashing and focus their attention on the numerous problems the state faces, including the drastic decline in education funding in recent years. I know it’s an election year, but cultural attitudes about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community have grown increasingly more tolerant across the country and even here. Republicans might think twice about running on the gays, guns and God mantra this year; polls show younger people are extremely tolerant of the LGBT community. Chris Cillizza, who writes The Fix for The Washington Post, outlined it here several months ago.