School districts refusing to comply with Lindsey’s Law
are flying in the face of widespread popular support for enforcement of
the measure, according to a new public opinion survey from SoonerPoll.
A total of six public school districts have refused implementation of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Children with Disabilities Program Act. The new SoonerPoll results indicate Oklahomans disagree, by a 2-1 margin, with the school boards’ defiance of the new law.
The controversial law firm of Rosenstein Fist Ringold has advised districts not to implement the law,
even though the measure gained bipartisan legislative support and was
vetted before enactment by Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett and
Governor Brad Henry.
Rosenstein Fist Ringold was previously involved in previous attempts to
impede operation of Oklahoma’s charter school laws. After years of
litigation in that matter, the firm and its clients lost, costing
taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees.
Last month, Superintendent Garrett
told CapitolBeatOK that she believed members of the school boards in
question had violated their oaths of office when they voted to impede
implementation of the law.
The law written by state Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City and state Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid — with key co-sponsors
including state Reps. Jabar Shumate and Anastasia Pittman — was named
in honor of Lindsey Nicole Henry, the daughter of the governor and his
wife, Kim, who died in infancy of a rare disease.
Shumate’s support of the legislation provoked an all-out effort by labor
unions, including the Oklahoma Education Association, to defeat the
black Democrat from north Tulsa in the July primary. Shumate survived the political assault and was reelected.
Lindsey’s Law allows students with special needs (a wide range of
disabilities) presently enrolled in public schools to access
scholarships if they enroll in a private school. Critics have questioned
the measure’s constitutionality. The measure did not increase funding
for special education, and operates within the framework of existing
According to a release from SoonerPoll, “When asked whether school
districts should comply with the law until a constitutional ruling is
made, 61.4 percent believe that they should compared to 29.5 percent who
believe that school districts are not obligated to comply until a
constitutional ruling is made.”
In all, the boards of education in five public school districts —
Owasso, Jenks, Union, Bixby and Broken Arrow – have chosen to defy the
law. A sixth district, the Tulsa public school system, voted to process a
few early applications but has turned away all other families seeking
to access the program.
The defiance of the law has drawn critical response from parents
of special needs children and from the bipartisan group of lawmakers
who shepherded the law through the Legislature, including income Speaker
of the House Kris Steele.
On Monday, an Owasso parent told a Tulsa television
station, “Now we need to think about suing the school board to make
them do what’s right. Because they’re choosing to violate the law they
don’t agree with. It makes no sense.”
When the legislation cleared the Legislature last spring, SoonerPoll
found 54.7 backed the measured. Today’s SoonerPoll analysis said the new
results means “one of two things; support for the legislation has grown
since its passage or many opposed to the bill believe it should be
complied with regardless of their opinions.”
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll,
said: “It is interesting to note that when the results are
cross-tabulated by party and political label no major statistical
differences are seen between Republicans and Democrats or liberals and
conservatives. It is remarkable to see such a controversial issue split
so evenly among political groups and ideologies.”
Doug Mann, the lawyer for both the Broken Arrow and Jenks public school
systems, has guided the school boards’ defiance of the new law.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned the new survey from
SoonerPoll.com, which conducted its “scientific study using live
interviewers by telephone of 518 likely voters from Nov. 5 – 11. The
study has a margin of error of ± 4.3 percent.”
NOTE: Patrick B. McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK. Stacy Martin
is editor of The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper where McGuigan is