Sunday, March 31, 2013

"We Legislate; You Pay Two-Step"

It seems there's a theme to the proposed legislation in the OK Legislature this year: mandate and make someone else pay the bills. I call this the "We Legislate; You Pay Two-Step." Dance merrily away from the messes they create, high-fiving along the way.

There are three pieces making their way though the House and Senate that will create sweeping changes, and give already-strapped districts the bill. My cynical self sees this as a way the Legislators can shrug and say, "Well, we gave them this and that...not our problem now." I disagree. I believe we need to lay complete responsibility at the doorstep of the lawmakers desperately trying to deny their own accountability. They want everyone else to bear the burden while they slap each other on the back.

HB1659 deals with National Board stipends and changes not only the amount of the stipends for National Board Certified teachers, lowering it from $5000 a year to $1000 a year, it also makes the payment part of a teacher's salary, thus transferring responsibility for the payments from the state to districts. I've written about this before -- it will make NBCTs less and less attractive as employees, and more and more expensive. The school districts never agreed to pay these stipends -- and in the current climate, they can't. But I see how attractive this is to lawmakers trying to find a way to fund their new teacher merit-pay scheme. Making districts responsible will instantly free $12 million-$15 million from the state budget. Win for them -- lose for districts.

Moving on, HB1062 'frees' school districts to allow teachers and administrators to carry guns on campus. I have linked to the latest version I could find. I've learned that versions change online and it's impossible to retrace the changes. It originally required 240 hours of training for an educator to carry a weapon, but that has been amended to 120 hours. The bill further requires any School Board that participates to pay for all training costs for educators...the cost of the actual training, any transportation and lodging costs. There are provisions that will free districts from any liability...I'm assuming for WHEN something goes very wrong and someone is hurt or killed. I can already hear them: "Well, we GAVE those teachers the right to carry guns. We can't be responsible for their mistakes." So, once again, the Legislature plans to make sweeping gestures of support for school safety, but to step away from any responsibility. How are districts who choose to participate going to bear the extra costs of training? Not their problem. They're too busy dancing away from accountability.

SB425 is the new voucher bill -- with a twist. As explained to us by Ryan Owens, of CCOSA, at the OKC Metro-area PLAC, it will allow students who graduate from high school early to take their per-pupil expenditure and pay college tuition. We were told the difficulty with this is the fact students are no longer generating this per-pupil payment, since they are not in a public school. So, schools will have less money generated for their per-pupil payments from the state. It sounds incredibly complicated...but is also sounds like public education money is being stolen from us to provide tuition to higher education institutions. The phrase from the bill that resonated with me: "The State Department of Education shall then reserve or retain from the total amount appropriated to the State Board of Education for State Aid purposes and any other revenues available for allocation for State Aid purposes the total cost for all scholarship payments." My question is: " Does this money come off the top of the State Aid, or is it taken from each individual district who has early graduates?" Either way, the answer seems to be public schools will see a loss of funds. More dancing...encourage early graduation, but don't support schools that produce these graduates. Punish them, instead. Add this to the punitive changes in the ACE scholarship program, and we see more tip-toeing away from our schools and our students.

Two-step: We make the rules and the laws; you pay and pay and pay. We give you less money; you pay and pay and pay. I wish our lawmakers were as serious about our students' safety and education as they pretended.

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