Focus, People!

In my last post, I ended with a query as to what shenanigans might occur before March 24th that would delay the adoption of our new Oklahoma Academic Standards. I was right to be skeptical, just a little off on the date. Here it is, March 26th, two days past the date which would have seen our standards adopted by default, and there is still an effort afoot to delay implementation by those who have publicly disowned public education. File Mar 19, 12 24 23 PMWhether the Oklahoma House of Representatives can even discuss a bill on Monday to delay the standards is only in question because they adjourned on Wednesday of last week instead of Thursday. Due to some other early adjournments, Monday, March 28th will be the 30th day of the legislative session (for the House—the Senate did not adjourn on Wednesday…which only adds to the suspicious circumstances of this standards adoption debacle). This was the deadline for legislators to act on implementation of the new Oklahoma Academic Standards, which were presented to them on the first day of the legislative session after a nearly two year process of review and writing by Oklahomans.

 

Now it seems our legislators’ phones and inboxes are lighting up with concerns from “citizens” (though not all Oklahomans) that our standards are merely a “back door” for Common Core to resurrect in our state. This absurd and false notion emerged thanks to an appearance by Rep. Dan Fisher (the guy who wanted to rid our schools of AP US History) on Glenn Beck’s radio show.  Not too long afterward, a campaign was launched, presumably by some of our ROPE buddies* in partnership with some other friends* to public education, to inundate our legislators’ offices with demands to hear HJR1070 and delay implementation of OAS. Given the general confusion about the deadline for legislative action, this isn’t even an 11th hour appeal. It’s after midnight, but some people forgot to move their clocks forward for daylight savings time.

 

(* denotes sarcasm)

 

File Mar 26, 10 18 06 PMI’m going to reiterate what I wrote last week. I think this has less to do with the standards and more to do with revenge. I think this is retaliation for shutting down vouchers. I think this is an attempt to see Superintendent Hofmeister in hot water after she released a fiscal impact statement that essentially put the nail in the coffin for ESA legislation. You can form your own opinion.  But when it comes to adopting new standards for our schools, why should any group who openly disdains public education have a seat at the table?

 

It is now going on week two of entertaining the legislature’s role in determining whether the standards written by Oklahoma teachers, reviewed by Oklahoma teachers, and endorsed by Oklahoma districts are fit for Oklahoma’s students.

 

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, mental healthcare takes a $13million cut.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, OKCPS is forced to cut 208 teaching positions.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, DHS is forced to cut $25million from their budget.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, closing 7 county health departments is among the plans to cut $4.2million from the Oklahoma Department of Health budget.

 

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, legislators have done little to address the $1.3BILLION budget shortfall.

 

The teams of educators who wrote our new standards have done their job. It’s time for our legislators to focus on theirs.  Let them know:

Call your representatives.

Call your senators.

 

 

Listen All Y’all…This Is Sabotage

Let’s take a look at one of the organizations behind the fight to delay our standards: Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment (ROPE).

First and foremost, I feel it is important to share this screenshot of a statement made by ROPE leader, Jenni White:

:

File Mar 19, 12 24 23 PM

“We decided a long time ago that…public ed wasn’t worth restoring…”

As a teacher, all this time I thought my primary clientele were children. I’d like an explanation from legislators entertaining this group’s opposition to the standards adoptions. Why are we allowing education policy to be driven by a group that believes the 40,000 educators and nearly 700,000 children in our public schools are not worth our time and effort?

 

If you scroll through ROPE’s Facebook page, before the sudden blitzkrieg on the new standards, you’ll find lots of posts in support of ESA’s or vouchers.

Given ROPE’s very vocal opposition to the efforts of public schools, it should come as no surprise that they would support legislation to divert taxpayer money from already starved public schools and send it with little to no accountability to parents who homeschool or choose religious-affiliated private schools.

 

Just before spring break, proponents of ESAs tried unsuccessfully to pass two separate measures (HB2949 and SB609) that would further efforts to make vouchers a reality in our state. Despite a large Republican majority in both the House and Senate, and the loud efforts of our governor, neither measure made it out of its respective chamber. This was largely due to a grassroots movement of parents and educators informing legislators they were NOT in favor of further financial crippling of our public schools.

 

A statement was released by house and senate leadership on Thursday, March 10th: neither voucher bill would advance. On March 11th, the ROPE Facebook page made its first meFile Mar 19, 12 59 53 PMntion of the Oklahoma Academic standards since January 31st. Since, March 11th, the ROPE Facebook page contains more than 20 posts calling for a delay in adopting our new standards. I waded through the more than 75 posts from January 1st through March 11th. Amid Ted Cruz campaign endorsements and references to classic literature as “smut”, I found only 5 posts that alluded to our new standards (one of which was merely voicing a concern that standards concerning health might include sex education). Those 5 posts occurred in January. I find it odd there was no mention of concerns about the new standards in February, since they were officially released for review and acceptance to the legislature on February 1st.

 

Despite the months-long process of creating the new standards, conducted by Oklahoma educators for Oklahoma’s children, despite the 65 letters of support from Oklahoma districts and agencies, and despite having submitted those standards to Oklahoma lawmakers on the first day of this legislative session over six weeks ago, opponents waited to voice concerns until now. Just DAYS before the standards would take effect by default, multiple resolutions (SJR75, HJR1070, and HJR1071) were introduced in both the house and the senate that would delay their adoption and send them back for further review and adjustment. This delay would cost us more time and money.

 

Furthermore, the movement to repeal Common Core claimed Oklahoma needed academic standards written by and for Oklahomans. More local control. File Mar 19, 12 19 30 PMWhy, then, are we suddenly interested in the opinions of “experts” outside our state, one-in-particular directly tied to Common Core?  There are 11 comments on this Tulsa World article over Achieve’s assessment of OAS. ALL of the comments are declaring frustration with legislators and/or questioning the validity and relevance of Achieve’s findings. 

 

Maybe I’ve seen too many seasons of 24, but this is where my conspiracy theory radar goes off. Am I supposed to believe there is no connection between refusing to adopt our standards and foiling the voucher wolves’ plans to huff and puff and blow down our [school]house?

I know, I know.  Correlation is not the same as causation.  Still, it’s enough to make you raise an eyebrow and think, hmmmm.   Keeping in mind the standards would pass with no action on March 24th, I’ll leave you with a list of legislator emails and this timeline of events:

I wonder what other shenanigans await us between now and March 24th?

SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE EMAILS:

dossett@oksenate.gov, fordj@oksenate.gov, sharp@oksenate.gov, brecheen@oksenate.gov, garrisone@oksenate.gov, halligan@oksenate.gov, jolley@oksenate.gov, paddack@oksenate.gov, quinn@oksenate.gov, shaw@oksenate.gov, smalley@oksenate.gov, sparks@oksenate.gov, stanislawski@oksenate.gov, thompson@oksenate.gov

Follow this link to email representatives in the House. 

 

Stay the Course

The past week has been a whirlwind.  Besides spending time in three different states, keeping tabs on my school’s run to a state championship in basketball, and surviving the slow crawl to spring break, I struggled to keep my blood pressure in check while things unfolded at the capitol concerning vouchers.

 

This week, the voucher wolves were on the hunt with gusto.  Not one, but TWO separate pieces of legislation (one in the house and one in the senate) had cleared committee and were placed on the agenda in their respective houses for a vote.  The deadline to pass legislation out of its house of origin was Thursday, March 10th, and the authors of the legislation pulled out all the stops trying to get these bills passed.

 

Monday night, we received word that SB609 and HB2949 were placed on the floor agendas for the following day.  Almost simultaneously, we began seeing notifications on social media that robo-calls were being made to residents in certain areas with a message from the governor asking people to contact their legislators in support of Education Savings Accounts/VOUCHERS.  In previous weeks, sleek mailers were sent out around the state calling on people to support ESA’s.  These efforts were paid for by organizations that use “school choice” rhetoric to further their agenda of privatizing public education—sending tax dollars to private institutions without accountability.  Proponents even call themselves a grass roots movement, despite being backed by big money.

 

On Tuesday, the real grassroots movement began to flourish.  Parents began calling, writing, and emailing their legislators, but not with messages of support.  Incensed by the messages from school officials around the state outlining the drastic measures being taken to cut costs due to revenue shortfalls, people spoke up and spoke out against vouchers.  File Mar 14, 11 59 31 AMThe message was clear:  how can you possibly consider robbing our kids of more money at a time when we’re first in the nation for cuts to education?  How can you possibly entertain the thought of picking the pockets of our public schools to finance private school tuition when our school leaders are debating whether or not they can afford services we once considered essential, like transportation.  How can you possibly consider vouchers when districts all over the state are going to 4-day weeks, or ending the school year early to offset devastating mid-year cuts to education?

 

Neither SB609 nor HB2949 came to a vote on Tuesday. We were cautiously optimistic. More robo-calls went out that night, this time targeting districts where Republican legislators planned to vote “NO”. Neither came to a vote on Wednesday. Perfectly timed, our State Superintendent, Joy Hoffmeister, released the fiscal impact for public schools that would result from the implementation of vouchers. On Thursday, we heard rumors that the authors were working deals in caucus to whip votes for the measures. It was clear the votes were not there to pass the measures and proponents were trying everything in an eleventh hour attempt to win votes.

 

During these three days, I was in Kansas City at the Southwest American Choral Directors Association Conference. In addition to attending some wonderful workshops and reading sessions, I had the pleasure of listening to some amazing concerts. Several groups were from Texas, where teacher pay and per pupil spending are considerably higher than Oklahoma. Perusing their programs, I noticed their beautiful facilities, the size of their programs, and the number of certified faculty members and accompanists they could afford to hire even in smaller districts. In light of the battle we are fighting for public education, I began to wonder if I’m like those people on the Titanic who failed to get into the first half-empty lifeboats because they insisted the ship wasn’t sinking.

 

On Thursday afternoon, news came that fortified my efforts to stay and fight the good fight in Oklahoma.

 

Neither voucher bill would be heard in their respective houses. Two things have been swirling around in my brain after considering the ups and downs of this battle:

 

  1. Parents and community members still have the power to move the needle when it comes to education reform. In a state with a Republican governor, a Republican State Superintendent, and a large Republican majority in both the Senate and the House, Republican measures for vouchers could not be passed. This tells me some legislators still listen to their constituents. Some legislators know they work for us. We’re in a presidential election year, and I hear people justify their lack of involvement with the lament, “my vote/voice doesn’t matter.” It matters. And I would argue your voice and your vote matter most
  2. The battle is far from over. Proponents of vouchers have been vocal about the fact they are not giving up, despite the outcry from citizens that these measures be laid to rest. This legislation can still resurrect as an amendment to a bill that has already cleared its house of origin. The House Speaker (Hickman), a staunch supporter of vouchers, can introduce new legislation at any time. There is a rumor that they are waiting until the candidacy filing period (April 13th-15th) to instigate another push for vouchers in Oklahoma. If new candidates don’t come forward to challenge the status quo, some legislators may be persuaded to toe the party line. The good news is, a few already have, including an opponent for Jason Nelson, the author of HB2949. Kelly Meredith announced her candidacy this week and plans to kick off her campaign tomorrow night (Tuesday, March 15th).

 

To sum up…KEEP THE PRESSURE ON. And encourage others around you to get involved. Keep the conversations with your legislators open, and hold them accountable with your vote in June primaries and November elections. Finally, if you or somebody you know are ready to see a change at the capitol, consider running for office.

 

Well done, friends. Keep vigil. Remain alert.   Stay the course.