As my constituents know, one of the issues on which I am most passionate is my effort to end forever the idea of forced school consolidation.
In both of the past two years, I have written legislation that would end that despicable practice. We should amend Oklahoma’s Constitution to take the power to consolidate school districts away from the politicians, judges and bureaucrats and put it in the hands of the people of Oklahoma – where it belongs.
That effort, which was killed last year in the House of Representatives, has picked up a lot of momentum this year. This week, the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous bipartisan vote approved Senate Joint Resolution 1, the constitutional amendment that would put the power to consolidate in the hands of voters in the affected districts.
While some tough but fair questions were asked, when the roll was called every member of that important committee – Democratic and Republican, rural and urban – voted for the bill, which would give we the people the right to decide whether to amend our Constitution.
While I am encouraged, we have gotten this far in the past. Last year, an identical measure made it through a Senate committee and then passed the full Senate on a 43-1 vote only to meet an untimely demise in the House when an urban Republican committee chair refused to even consider the bill.
This year, I have sought out co-authors from the get-go. Hopefully, this sends the message that support for this measure is widespread across the state – and across party lines.
As I write this, there are 12 co-authors for this bill in the Senate – legislators from both parties. In the House of Representatives, where the measure met its demise because of pressure from the Republican leadership last year, we have an astonishing 33 sponsors.
The primary House authors of the bill are a pair of Republican lawmakers who share my commitment to put this power in the hands of the people. That sends a strong message to the politicians who traditionally and greedily want to keep the power to consolidate schools for themselves; there is no doubt, this power truly belongs in the hands of the people.
The decision whether to consolidate schools can literally mean life or death for a rural community. That decision is of greatest consequence to the children and families who depend on rural schools and the quality education they provide. Surely, a decision of such magnitude deserves to be made by the people affected and not by politicians hundreds of miles away.
Forced rural school consolidation kills rural communities and takes power away from the people. Perhaps now, we have the momentum to end this practice and make a real difference for our rural communities and the families who live there.