I would like to say this as an opener to this piece: This is not a rebuke of Governor Stitt - there are many things our Governor has done of which we all approve - but there is a sincere lack of agreement in the area of 'School Choice' that needs to be addressed. I am not criticizing to criticize, but to make points I think EVERYONE - especially Republicans - should think about before blind acceptance of the concept of state-sponsored 'school choice' through yet another voucher system.
Here is the transcribed version of Governor Stitt's State of The State Address. I am only addressing the part of his speech regarding government education.
This is the section in which the Governor addressed Government Education - I have bolded and made red the sections with which we take exception - I have bolded, italicized and made blue the popular 'buzz words' used to create emotion around the topic of 'school choice':
(1.) We provided record funding for all public schools, including charter and rural schools.
These initial investments were good first steps for Oklahoma’s education turnaround, but there’s much more to do.
(1a.) Just 15% of Oklahoma high school graduates are ready for college in English, math, reading and science -- less than one out of five. We can do better than 47th in the nation when it comes to our kids (Democrats say this every time they want more funding for schools).
We’ve tiptoed around the edges for far too long. It’s clear the status quo isn’t working. We need to take bold steps. It will take courage, and it will take a desire to make a generational impact. This is our moment! (There is always an emergency that requires government to act - Nancy Pelosi perfected this concept with ObamaCare.)
(2.) We know education is not one-size-fits-all, and I pledge to support any legislation that gives parents more school choice, because in Oklahoma, we need to fund students, not systems! ProTem Treat filed a bill called the Oklahoma Empowerment Act. It makes sure that money follows the student, and it would make us a national leader in school choice (Oklahomans were told this about the Lyndsey Nicole Henry Scholarship and our creation of charter schools, yet, we are STILL not apparently a 'national leader in school choice'. When will that come? How many times will we be told this very thing?
Let me be clear: Oklahoma has a lot of great schools, but the results don’t lie. We need new ideas, more options, and higher standards for our kids (Again, how many 'new' ideas are there? The more the government micromanages, the worse schools get because of the layers and layers of laws and rules). This is just common sense. (I'm missing the common sense I guess.)
(3) We have a duty to make sure nothing stands in the way of an Oklahoma student achieving their full potential. There are roadblocks – literally. State law creates artificial barriers for school districts that don’t put our students first. (Didn't you tell us you solved that with last session's bill to allow students to transfer to any school - even though the school to which the student would transfer has ways around taking them - all the way back to HB1017? No unintended consequences even today from that bill that just HAD to be passed to 'fix' Oklahoma 🙄.)
Our school transportation formula is outdated and broken. We desperately need to modernize it. (What does 'modernize' mean? It is a word without definition in the government setting. Here, the word 'modernize' can only mean spending more money and/or 'growing government'. Taxpayers should REQUIRE definitions for terms attached to their tax dollars.)
(4) Another roadblock in our current system keeps some of the best teachers out of the classroom. Right now, some talented teachers choose to leave the classroom to make more money as an administrator. Oklahoma students can’t be the best without the best teachers. That’s why I’m proposing matching funds so that our best teachers can make six figure salaries and stay in the classroom. (What criteria will make a 'best' teacher? Will that require creation of a commission or other new expansion of government? Republican Governors have said this ad Infinium, yet the only thing developed to 'grade' teachers was Obama's 'Teacher/Leader Effectiveness' program instituted by former State Superintendent Janet Barresi now shown to be a failure in every state in which it was implemented.*)
It’s the right thing to do for our teachers and for our kids! (How do we know? What metrics are used to make this statement? Every year, Oklahoma continues and doubles-down on failed systems - stacking up laws and programs government schools should follow - yet we still languish at the 'bottom' of the NAEP - National Assessment of Educational Progress. This comment means absolutely nothing if not backed up by some kind of plan that doesn't involve more failed government interventionist policies.)
Another way to support Oklahoma educators is to protect their paychecks from union bosses. The same unions that have pushed critical race theory and school closures intimidate new teachers into handing over part of their salaries. Liberal unions want to keep a stranglehold on their cut of teacher pay. Enough is enough! Every other profession lets you opt-in to health insurance and other benefits at work every year. Unions should be opt-in, not opt-out! (ABSOLUTELY, but why - after years of lip service to this idea - has it NOT BEEN DONE?)
1. WHY DOES THE LEGISLATURE CONTINUE TO FUND FAILING PUBLIC SCHOOLS?
Seriously. Our Governor seems proud of all the funding poured into government schools but then directly follows that statement with DATA indicating that the majority of Oklahoma students are NOT READY FOR COLLEGE.
The obvious takeaway here then, is that the State Legislature is filled with people who either don't see connections (more money doesn't equal results) or are politically weak-kneed and refuse to buck the bullies that run the Leftist indoctrination centers we call 'public' schools. If there was enough political will in our state capitol, the State School Grade Card (created because of strings to federal government funding) would be used to determine failing schools and some kind of monetary sanction would be determined and prescribed until the school improved the way they educate the pupils entrusted them, despite the kicking, screaming and fit throwing from the public school ed bullies, instead of growing government or transferring the process of taxpayer accountability for failing public schools to parents accepting state funds. Now THAT would be accountability!
2. PUBLIC OPTIONS BECOME POLITICAL FOOTBALLS.
If you know education isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor, why make all private solutions (private and homeschools) public ones by infusing them with taxpayer dollars?Doesn't that create yet another extension of an already-broken system?
One major talking point for the bill has been, "This is voluntary, no one has to take the money" yet Senator Greg Treat, during his defense of SB1647 in the Senate Education Committee (where the bill only passed 8-7 with Treat and Majority Floor leader McCortney's extra-committee voting) said numerous times that 'state' (government) money necessarily has to come with strings and that we couldn't be worried about what might happen in the future. Hmmm...isn't that why we have SO MANY LAWS with UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES?
Oklahoma's Lindsey Nicole Henry's (LNH) voucher scholarship (signed in 2011) has been adjudicated in court NUMEROUS times because it became a political football for the Left to use against the Right to sabotage the program.
Most recently, former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter issued an opinion regarding an attempt to force private schools taking students on LNH scholarships to add 'sex' to their state-required discrimination policy.
However, several years after the passage of the LNH law—after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister became head of the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE)—officials at OSDE rewrote the regulations governing the LNH program to also bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and religious affiliation. Those revisions were then approved by the State Board of Education, which at that time consisted of Hofmeister and members appointed by then-Gov. Mary Fallin.
The revised regulations effectively required private religious schools that adhere to traditional Christian teachings to nonetheless hire atheists and abandon student code-of-conduct requirements regarding sexuality and marriage if they accepted LNH students.
In November 2020, the revised OSDE regulations led the State Board of Education—by that time consisting mostly of Gov. Kevin Stitt appointees who were not involved in the earlier revision process—to initially reject the application of one private Christian school that sought to serve LNH students.
So, if a REPUBLICAN-appointed board is going to apply Obama-orginated Title IX guidance to LNH-required anti-discrimination law (42 U.S.C. section 2000d), and a subsequent REPUBLICAN-appointed board acted on that change, what would happen under a DEMOCRAT Governor-appointed board?
Though AG Hunter's opinion states that the State Board "lacked the statutory authority to impose additional requirements on participating schools" (among others) and Hofmeister said of the decision that the Board would "move forward in accordance with the opinion", an opinion has only advisory effect - another Board may see things another way.
This goes for federal law as well. In 2016, the heads of the Department of Justice and the US Department of Education Office For Civil Rights sent a Dear Colleague letter to all state schools that they were adding transgender rights to Title IX law. Let's not quibble about the fact that these Dear Colleague letters mean little to nothing, because states and schools have a history of following them like Supreme Court decisions. During his presidency, Trump rescinded this 'guidance' only to have Biden reinstate it not long after his inauguration. This introduced HUGE amounts of confusion into a system already generally overregulated and confused.
Other than being classified as extremists - which has virtually always been the case with citizens who buck existing systems and authoritarians - homeschooling in Oklahoma is conducted according to the Constitution with ZERO state administration of any kind, creating ZERO room for politicization such as this.
3. NO. GOVERNMENT CAN'T COVER ALL THE BASES IT WOULD TAKE TO MAKE SURE A STUDENT REACHES THEIR FULL POTENTIAL.
What ends up happening with this kind of thinking is not that the bottom gets elevated, but the top gets drug down. It's like the 'even the playing field' idea - it's a socialist notion.
You can't take from others with more and give it to those who have less because eventually you have a society with no middle class (a CLASS-LESS society), which is what's happening now.
If parents themselves won't step up and take control over their child's education, you can't legislate or incentivize them to do so. I've written about this numerous, numerous times from the perspective of an education policy researcher and that of a former teacher.
We need to stop this kind of 'equity' thinking and concentrate on helping the majority of kids while letting non-profits and those who wish to volunteer their time (and there are lots of those thank goodness!) to help those that are - for whatever reason - not in a position to help themselves.
4. TEACHERS LEAVE THE CLASSROOM FOR A LOT OF REASONS, BUT MOSTLY BECAUSE ADMINISTRATORS WON'T ADMINISTRATE
How is government going to fix that? Administrators are already supposed to administrate, yet there are at least two bills I've seen in the legislature this year adding yet another law to Title 70 TO MAKE ADMINISTRATORS DO THEIR JOBS. How can adding yet another law fix that?
My contention has always been that the Conservative option is always the best - our state should stop writing school law, repeal a lot of existing school law and GET OUT OF THE WAY!
Why do you suppose charters aren't working the way they were at the beginning of the charter movement? We legislated them to death too! I worked for a charter school that was GREAT when it started only to watch it get worse and worse every year to the point that it was no different than the neighborhood school.
In fact, I left teaching for MANY of the reasons given in this blog (none of which was money-related). Essentially, I had no control over my classroom anymore via ineffective administration, over testing and overbearing parents.
INSTEAD OF STATE-SPONSORED VOUCHERS, LET'S:
1. Cut Bureaucracy Don't Add To It - as ROPE showed with Common Core, Turning Around Failing Schools, and all the pillars of Obama's Education Reform system - BUREAUCRACY DOESN'T WORK, it simply impedes the process.
Instead of ADDING laws, REPEAL laws relating to government education. Webs of laws entangle and confuse.
Republicans talk endlessly about 'local control' but rarely REMOVE state laws and mandates to allow schools to function according to community needs as addressed by local school boards.
In fact, it could be argued successfully that part of the reason school boards stopped addressing (or listening to) the needs of parents is that parent desires are often stymied or take a back seat to the need (or drive) to receive funding by following state and federal laws - the latter of which are not even Constitutional. As Republicans say they believe - but rarely follow - THE LESS GOVERNMENT the MORE INNOVATION, POSSIBILITY and OPPORTUNITY.
2. Provide tax credits for parents wanting to use other systems - Instead of taking money from parents and then 'giving' it back to them with strings created by the need for the state to be accountable to the money it gives parents - simply DON'T TAKE IT FROM PARENTS IN THE FIRST PLACE.
This seems up front enough but then the argument becomes - "what about parents who don't pay into the system"?
To take from others to give to those without is REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH - something, again, Republicans are ostensibly not for. It used to be that the poor were cared for by churches and communities - have churches shrunk because they have nothing to do now that the state does all their work for them?
Once the government got involved - thank you very much LBJ and your "war on poverty" - (More than 100 million people, or one-third of Americans, received some type of welfare aid, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. If converted into cash, this spending was five times what was needed to eliminate all poverty in the U.S.) the number of those in poverty skyrocketed because there was no reason to remove oneself from their impoverished circumstances if the government was simply going to 'help' you by giving you money.
3. Provide tax credit scholarships for taxpayers wanting a tax deduction and parents wishing to apply for a scholarship. Oklahoma has the Lyndsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for children with disabilities to attend schools other than their failing neighborhood school. Why not create another tax deduction scholarship for those who would like to pay in to 'sponsor' needy students?
4. Stop Funding Failing Schools - truly, what difference does it make if you take the money from the school to follow the kid when government schools STILL have no incentive to get better? Eventually - even with the benevolent hand of government guiding us - you're eventually going to RUN OUT OF SCHOOLS TO RUN TO!
*The evaluation, Improving Teaching Effectiveness: Final Report (587 pages, PDF), found that while the sites succeeded in implementing new measures of effectiveness and used them to inform a range of personnel decisions, the initiative did not lead to an overall improvement in student achievement or graduation rates. Although interim evaluations as of 2013-14 had found small improvements in grades 3 through 8 reading scores at some schools, the final report concludes that, as of the spring of 2015, the initiative had had no significant impact on students' reading or math outcomes. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/gates-teacher-effectiveness-initiative-fell-short-study-finds