School Vouchers Not A Good Fit For Oklahoma

A recent editorial in The Oklahoman arguing in favor of school vouchers deserves a thorough challenge because it omits and distorts important information about the issue.

The editorial, titled “Conservative policy takes a hit with Oklahoma ESA decision,” ran Wednesday. The gist of it was that Republicans “capitulated” when the legislative leaders decided not to consider bills creating taxpayer-funded Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s), or school vouchers, that could be used by parents to pay for their children’s tuition at private schools. This apparently made The Oklahoman editorial board unhappy. State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, a Republican, wasn’t happy either with the voucher decision, arguing, “Republicans should put D’s (for Democrats) after their names and call it good.” Obviously, the voucher issue has struck some deep chord among some conservatives.

The Oklahoman argues that a majority of state residents support the idea of vouchers, basing its assertion on the results of one poll, and that vouchers would benefit “low-income” children the most. The editorial also makes the point that those opposed to vouchers are the “most rabid teacher union members and their allies.” Note the word “rabid.” What does that even mean in this context? How typically insulting and sophomoric for the newspaper.

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Anti-Abortion Proposal Creates National Headlines

An extremist anti-abortion bill proposed this year in the Oklahoma legislature would have made anyone who performs the procedure subject to first degree murder charges.

It’s doubtful that Senate Bill 1118, sponsored by Republican State Sen. Joseph Silk of Broken Bow, would have ever made it through the legislative process, but it’s worth noting anyway as an example of the wasted time and energy that our state leaders spend on advancing extremist, right-wing religious positions instead of doing the basic work of governance and crafting real-life policy that would help the state overcome its many challenges.

The bill didn’t make it through the legislature process because even the radical extremists who lead our government here knew the murder-charge proposal is obviously unconstitutional and just plain bizarre. The bill has made national news, of course. The only thing positive one might say about it is that at least its supporters openly admit their intent is to abolish abortion. Many anti-abortion advocates often use disingenuous rhetoric to advance legislation limiting reproductive rights and don’t openly state their real goal is to abolish the procedure.

The bill, as amended and currently on the legislative web site, now would make it illegal for anyone to perform an abortion if a “fetal heartbeat is detected.” This, too, is an unconstitutional proposal, which would draw a successful lawsuit.

What’s 100 percent certain is that the abortion procedure would continue in this country even if it was made illegal through a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which seems unlikely.

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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.

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.

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