Friday, March 16, 2012

Legislative Shenanigans - A Lesson in Civics From House Bill 2762 by Lee Denney

From the day House Bill 2762 by Lee Denney and its mirror bill SB1797 by Clark Jolley were placed on committee calendars, ROPE has been warning about these bills.

As you know, ROPE does not support the Common Core State Standards for numerous reasons. From the day we found out they had been added to Oklahoma's copious education laws in 2010, we have attempted to generate awareness regarding the federal overreach of education this 'initiative' represents. Recently, we launched our campaign called, "ObamaEd", in order to educate even more citizens and legislators about the lack of control they will have over OKLAHOMA education as these standards become fully entrenched in our state's educational system by 2014.

HB2762 and SB1797 were bills penned by the Governor's office (Representative Lee Denney admits this much on the floor during debate of the bill, Thursday, March 15, 2012) in order to put into law requirements from the Obama Administration's NCLB waiver our Governor and Superintendent requested. In fact, Oklahoma's NCLB waiver was CONDITIONAL on instituting a number of different reforms to our current system

As she noted, many proposed large-scale efforts to train their educators in the new academic standards, create or oversee development of new instructional resources, and redesign their testing systems.
though few Oklahoma administrators/educators appear to happy about the lack of local control NCLB waivers represent

“I am in favor of local control, and while I think this waiver takes a step toward that, it still does not offer local school districts local control. I believe that no one knows the needs of Broken Arrow students better than the citizens of Broken Arrow. Educators, parents and citizens should be allowed to determine what’s best for their community school, and the waiver does not allow for that,” Mendenhall said.
and organizations like Heritage Foundation and the Pioneer Institute have called an illegal and unconstitutional federal overreach into education.

Yet, our 'conservative' Governor and Superintendent have persisted, culminating their efforts in these two bills which address a number of different NCLB waiver factors including "teacher preparation" and "redesign of testing systems". The latter has been of great concern to us, as the Superintendent (Governor) needs to change the manner in which Oklahoma tests students. She needs to move Oklahoma tests from being locally developed (as has historically been done) to being developed by PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of College and Careers), the tests which are designed to specifically test for the Common Core Standards. All of the reasons we have elucidated as to why we disagree with this change can be found here, so I will not reiterate those here.

ROPE wants to make you aware of the process in legislating these bills, as not only does this serve as a valuable lesson in civics, but it shows you the kind of activities one could only describe as shenanigans, that our legislative process seems to invite.

  • Once we found out about the bill and specifically the change from NAEP to PARCC accountability for testing, we contacted Clark Jolley, author of the senate bill and told him our concerns.
  • The bill passed out of the Senate Education Committee and into the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • Senator Jolley filed an amendment in Appropriations to remove the new language and keep the bill's existing language (PARCC not added, NAEP kept). 
  • The bill then passed the Senate 39 to 0.
  • Once we found the language in the House bill, we contacted Rep. Denney and explained our concerns. 
  • The bill was heard in the Higher Education and Career Tech committee which Denney chairs (as a side note, request bills are often authored by committee chairs in order for the bill to be heard in committee - our bill repealing the Common Core from state law - HB1714 - authored by Rep. Sally Kern, was NOT heard in the Common Ed Committee for two years in a row.)
  • The bill passed out of Committee as a 29 page bill on February 16.
  • After passage, Representative Denney told us the bill was being 'worked on' by the Governor's office and she couldn't do anything to it until that process was over.
  • March 13th, the bill was placed on the Floor Calendar (to be considered by vote of the House) as a 182 page bill labeled as a FLOOR AMENDMENT.
  • ROPE began sending out Legislative Alerts asking for citizens to contact their Representative and ask them to vote NO on the bill, based upon our analysis. We also lobbied the House Wed., March 13 and asked for their NO vote.
  • Though the bill was not able to be heard until after 3:15 - due to the presence of the Floor Amendment on the bill (allowing members 'time' to read it - 'time' because how does one READ a 180-something page bill in 48 hours with all the others they have to read?), yet the bill was brought up for a vote around 9am! This, is a tactic - though illegal according to rules - to get legislators to vote for something before they have a chance to read it and discuss it! Thank you to Representative Mike Reynolds for bringing this to the attention of the Pro Temp!
  • Thursday, March 15, the bill came to the floor. When it became clear that Rep. Denney was NOT going to have the votes for her bill - due to EXCELLENT and SUSTAINED questioning by Representatives Kern, Holland and Blackwell - and EXCELLENT debate by Holland and Blackwell - Denney was apparently told (lots of activity at her desk - visits by the Pro Temp, Jeff Hickman and lots of texting) to "lay over" the bill.
  • If a bill is laid over, the language can be taken from that bill and put into another bill  - as in the one authored by Clark Jolley that has ALREADY PASSED THE SENATE.
  • If the bill had been voted on and voted down, the bill - including all that 150 pages of new language - would be DEAD.
We urge you to take the time to watch the full presentation of Rep. Denney's bill. Though Representative Denney has been very good to take time to listen to our arguments surrounding the bill and our objections to Common Core, she misrepresents the change from NAEP to PARCC on several occasions during her portion of the debate before the bill was laid over.

It is also well worth the time to listen to Representatives Holland and Blackwell debate AGAINST this bill. These men truly understand the damage which can be inflicted upon Oklahoma by voting to change from testing descriptors (and tests) we have used for decades and which we have developed locally to tests that have YET TO BE DEVELOPED.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please continue to watch SB1797. You can do that by joining the LENS bill tracker, typing in bill number SB1797 and reading the emails the tracker sends you as the bill moves through the legislative process. You can also join our email list and we will send out Legislative Action Alerts for this and other bills that will inevitably crop up before May 25 when our legislature adjourns.