Saturday, May 9, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" for May 8-14, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Hello again, everybody! As expected, the differences among policymakers are becoming sharper as the session nears its conclusion.

Education is one of the policy areas in which there are clear differences among those of us in the Legislature. The focus of much of the debate this session has been on Senate Bill 834.

Euphemistically called “The School District Empowerment Act,” the measure is designed – over the next five years – to make every public school in Oklahoma a charter school. Charter schools, which today only are allowed in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, have virtually no regulatory oversight beyond their local school boards.

Depending on to whom you talk, SB 834 either would strengthen public schools or wipe away decades of progress and begin the slow demise of Oklahoma’s public educational system. For me, the answer is clear: There has never been a greater threat to Oklahoma’s public schools than SB 834.

Standards that Oklahomans, for the last 20 years, have wanted our schools to have would no longer have applied under this bill. One of the most important of the standards that would have been ended by SB 834 is the classroom size limitation enacted as part of a major educational reform bill passed almost 20 years ago.

Limiting the size of classes ensures our children are in classes small enough for them to get adequate attention from teachers. It is one of the greatest advances of the last 20 years, and it would have been ended under SB 834.

Late this week, Governor Henry vetoed this very dangerous bill. In his veto message, he noted several other state mandates – standards we expect of our schools – would have ended under this bill. Full-day Kindergarten could have been on the chopping block, along with alternative school programs.

The bill would have made school librarians and counselors optional. Both are, in my judgment, critical to positive student outcomes.

Also, the measure would have done an amazing disservice to our teachers by weakening or eliminating their rights and benefits, including due-process rights. We entrust to teachers the most important resource we have – our children. Teachers should be accorded the respect reflective of that fact. SB 834 does not accord teachers anywhere near that level of respect.

Frustrated with the opposition to the bill, the senator who wrote it suggested those of us against the bill should just do away with local school boards if we would not empower them. The key to any successful regulatory plan is balance; local control always will be a part of successful educational efforts. SB 834 would have wiped out that balance.

For all these reasons, I strongly opposed this very dangerous bill when it came through the Legislature. Further, I will vehemently oppose any effort to override the governor’s very wise veto of what is a very bad bill.

Thanks again for reading “The Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.


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