Friday, February 12, 2016

HB2949 -- The Zombie Bill Must be Fought Again...and Again.


I don’t watch Walking Dead, but I feel like I’m in that story right now. Zombie voucher bills keep coming at us…we shoot one down, and we shoot it down again.

I wrote last year about Rep. Nelson’s ALEC voucher bill…uh, Education Savings Account. Sounds so much more touchy-feely, doesn’t it? He used the ALEC model legislation for his template and then filled in the blanks.

I also shared a conversation with friends about school choice and vouchers…we have been here before. We have fought this battle before.

I watched that bill go down in the House Common Education Committee…on a tie vote. That tie was only secured when the Speaker and Speaker Pro Tem came in and voted for the bill. We rejoiced. We took a deep breath…

And here we are again, facing a bill with a different number and the same intent…Monday in Committee. Rep. Nelson has the backing of the Governor who announced in her State of the State address that she is 100% in support of ESA/vouchers and wants a bill on her desk to sign.

He also has 12 co-authors…six of whom are Republican members of the Common Ed Committee. They smell victory. The zombies are shuffling toward us and we need to rally again…call, email, call again.

Some of the talking points I’m suggesting:

  • Per pupil expenditure is funded through property taxes…the average property tax in Oklahoma is about $1500. So every family pays about that…but only 59- 65% of that is collected for per-pupil funding to our schools. That makes an investment of less than $1000 per family.
  • We hear proponents talk about taking ‘their’ money and using it as they choose. But the numbers are clear…parents only invest around $1000 total. Tell me what alternate reality entitles them to their neighbors’ investment also?  Four of their neighbors will have their investment diverted for one student’s voucher, for one family’s personal gain.
  • When applying to a private school, choice is all with the school. We do not apply to attend public schools. All are welcome…the hard to educate and the easy. The destitute and the wealthy. The hungry and the well-fed. All. Private schools will be selective, as is their right. They will choose the easy-to-educate, the wealthy, the students without learning difficulties. The students whose first language is English. They can also choose the duration of a student’s enrollment, kicking out students who do not toe the line.
  • Private schools now have none of the accountability that cripples public schools. Not the testing, the mandates, the paperwork, the requirements. The evaluations. If one penny of public funds flows to private schools through vouchers, there must be accountability. To suggest otherwise is hypocrisy at the highest. Accountability is forced onto public schools to ‘prove’ taxpayer funding is being well-invested. So, public money? Public accountability.
  • Proponents of vouchers tell us that a portion of a student’s per-pupil expenditure will stay with the public school he leaves…that public schools will actually make money, money they can use for a teacher raise. Um. No. Just because little Johnny left to go to a private school will not lower the electric bills at his previous school.  Upkeep for the facilities will still be necessary. Little Johnny’s previous teacher will still need to be paid. Expenses will not go down with his departure. But public funding will.
  • Within 14 years of a voucher program being instituted in our state, we will be paying a portion of the tuition for every student in a private school. Public funding will be subsidizing every private school in the state. That could cost the schools $2 billion (with a B) dollars. In a climate where the same politicians pushing vouchers are defunding public schools.
  • Few studies exist on voucher schools…and most of them show little to no improvement in student performance as measured by standardized tests. An experiment like this could be terribly costly to our state…$2 billion (With a B) dollars costly.
  • School choice exists in our state. We have open enrollment…my own granddaughters live in one community and go to school in another. We can transfer our students from one district to any other. We have public charters in our larger cities. They are also a choice. NO ONE is fighting a family’s choice. We are fighting the loss of taxpayer money to pay for some families to go to private schools on the public’s dime.
  • The voucher amount is only a small portion of the full tuition needed to enroll at a private school, after they have chosen students. What parents will be able to afford the rest of the tuition, the transportation, the uniforms, the fees, the school lunches? What parents are the audience, the target for this bill? The working poor? Middle class? Or wealthy parents who just want someone else to pay for part of the tuition they could afford?
  • Private schools are not required to provide free and reduced lunches, special education, remediation, ELL support. They can legally close their doors to any of these vulnerable students and their families. 
  • Vouchers will create a separate-and-unequal education system. I’m old enough to remember the myth of separate but equal. And the horrors visited on children because of these hateful policies. Now our own politicians want to return to that inequity. No. Not our children.
  • Inequity is what all of this finally boils down to…every student deserves our best efforts to provide him or her with the support needed to thrive – whatever that support may be. Public schools strive to do this. Hot breakfasts, IEP services, ELL lessons, remediation, school libraries, certified, highly-qualified teachers. If vouchers skim off the easiest to educate, then we become a system of haves and have nots…with public schools less and less able to support the neediest children in their schools.
  • I end where I began…the per-pupil expenditure belongs to all of us. It’s an investment in the common good. A commitment by society to educate in as equitable manner possible every child. Every. Child. A family’s investment is small, but when combined with their neighbors’ investments, we support our students and educate them. That per-pupil funding does not belong to parents…it belongs to us all. To our community. As such, it cannot be given out to any family for their own selfish personal gain.

This zombie bill must be fought again…and we must prevail again.

Here is a list of House Common Education Committee members. Call them. Write to them.

Here is my favorite phone app for following the legislature: OAEC 55th Legislature. You can actually use the app to find phone numbers, click on the number and call. Then, back out and call the next member. The app is easy to use and really helps in our advocacy work.

Call this weekend. Stuff their voice mailbox. Leave a fast message.

Write to them. Ask them to steadfastly support every child in the public schools by voting no on HB2949. Then, return to the Legislative website and check the vote. Thank the members who voted no. Tell them you appreciate their support.

I’m old, and my zombie-fighting days are numbered…please join us. 


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