Education legislation creates victories in ‘reform wars’
The 2016 Oklahoma legislative session was awful. The Republican-controlled House, Senate and executive branch ducked their responsibilities, but we can shout for joy about one thing: Oklahoma’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister, quietly led us to three great education policy victories. Moreover, in an age ofirresponsible governance and venomous rhetoric, she exemplified the way to rebuild our schools.
Victory over vouchers
The first of the victories for public education was the defeat of vouchers. Despite the huge cuts that were coming to schools — or perhaps because of the way that funding reductions left schools vulnerable — influential legislators pushed two major voucher bills. Some, but not all, supporters of these “choice” bills saw vouchers as one more way to cripple public education so it could be strangled in the bathtub, but Hofmeister wisely questioned the timing of these bills in such a difficult budget year.
A broad coalition of educators undertook the seemingly impossible task of persuadingbelievers in market-driven schools to back away from vouchers. The educators made policy and financial cases against the bills. A quiet but decisive turning point was an analysis by the state’s Department of Education that found HB 2949 would cost local districts $68.9 million if 3 percent of students participated. The analysis also found thatSB 609 would cost local districts $44.5 million under a similar scenario. It was the professional provision of these facts, not grand debates, that carried the day.