Opinion: As the Oklahoma legislative session progresses, it is worth noting not only what bills advance, but which bills do not—and why the latter were rejected.
As always, education is a big issue with voters, but close observers of the Oklahoma Legislature may have already noticed an unexpected pattern. While the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate has voted on significant education legislation, the GOP-dominated Oklahoma House of Representatives has not.
It’s worth asking why.
To cite just one problem, school-board elections were conducted this week and most, even in supposedly highly contested races, drew minimal voter turnout. As a result, school employees (plus their family and close friends) and administrators can comprise a majority of voters in those low-turnout elections. That explains why so many school board members appear asleep at the wheel when school corruption and abuse are uncovered.
One way to address this longstanding problem is to simply move school-board elections to November, increasing voter awareness and participation. Last year, the Oklahoma Senate advanced legislation, Senate Bill 962, that would make this simple change.
The House has yet to hear that bill.
It’s also notable that numerous education bills died without a hearing in the House Common Education Committee.
The bills dying without a vote included legislation prohibiting school libraries from having materials that violate child pornography and obscenity laws. And a bill banning the use of 1619 Project materials in Oklahoma classrooms. (That curriculum presents slavery as the primary driver of American history and has been widely criticized by experts as ahistorical hogwash.) And a bill allowing schools to instead use the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum for history and social studies as a fact-based counter to the notorious 1619 curriculum. And legislation banning taxpayer funds from being funneled to groups like the National School Boards Association, which has sought to have parents treated as terrorists when they voice their opinions at school board meetings.
All those bills died because they were denied a vote, not because they lacked public support.
It’s notable that the chair of the House Common Education Committee—Rep. Rhonda Baker—has been endorsed by the Oklahoma Education Association and received campaign contributions from the union. In the 2018 election cycle, 70 percent of state House candidates endorsed by the OEA were Democrats. But it appears the OEA concluded that Baker fit right in with that crowd.
Teachers’ unions are often at loggerheads with most Republican voters, particularly parents. But that isn’t always true of teachers’ unions and some Republican politicians. Looking at the data may help Oklahoma voters determine why this is so.
Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).